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Photo by Thomas Shahan

A research development team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has created a new digital camera composed of 180 individual lenses to mimic an insect’s intricate eyesight. The initial images are low resolution, but display an immense depth-of-field. It is the hopes of the research team that this new technology will eventually be used in surveillance and for endoscopic investigations of the human body. Such cameras could also be used in insect-sized aerial robots. At the moment, while complex, the imaging system is only comparable to that of an ant or beetle.

“The compound design of the fly’s eye incorporates perhaps 28,000 small eyes, or ommatidia,” explained team-member Dr Jianliang Xiao from the University of Colorado at Boulder, US. “That’s the direction we want to move in,” he told BBC News.

According to the report on BBC News, the digital “bug eye” camera is designed to reflect the structure of an insect’s corneal lens with a crystalline cone and light-sensitive organ at the base. Together these sections of the bug’s eye form a “picture” of the world pieced together from the various sensory inputs. In the robotic adaptation, microlenses are positioned above photodetectors. Proprietary software designed for the bug-eye camera is used to sync the information and piece together the signals to form a full image. The initial image is flat and then stretched over a hemispherical shape to give the impression of a 180-degree view.

“Picture the following: a palm-sized micro aerial vehicle uses an artificial faceted eye to navigate autonomously through a collapsed building while other sensors onboard scan the environment for smoke, radioactivity or even people trapped beneath rubble and debris,” the research team reported in the Nature journal article.

A little buzz-worthy news about technological advancements, I’d say!

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