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Bugs' eyes inspire new super-wide-angle camera


May 1, 2013

Scientists have copied the structure of insect eyes to create a 180-degree hemispherical camera

Scientists have copied the structure of insect eyes to create a 180-degree hemispherical camera

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Contrary to what certain cartoons may have us believe, insects’ compound eyes don’t produce a grid of tiny identical images. Instead, each of their many optical facets supply one unique section of a single composite image – sort of like the individual pixels that make up one digital image. Now, a team of scientists has replicated that eye structure, to create an ultra-wide-angle camera.

The researchers, led by Prof. John A. Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, made the camera using a hemispherical interconnected array of 180 tiny focusing lenses. Each lens is paired with its own individual photodiode, allowing it to act as a little self-contained camera – just like each of the individual tiny “mini-eyes” within an insect’s compound eyes has its own lens, cone, and light-sensitive organ.

The various images captured by the device's individual mini lenses/cameras are fed to a processor, that combines them together into one cohesive 180-degree image. The picture reportedly has no visual aberrations, and an almost infinite depth of field.

While the electronics used are made of silicon, the optical components bonded to them are made from a rubbery polymer similar to that used for contact lenses. The wires connecting the lenses to one another are coiled like springs. This combination of rubbery lenses and springy interconnecting wires makes the array flexible enough to take on its curved, half-globe insect-eye-like shape, plus it can be stretched and deformed reversibly and without damage.

Although the technology is still in development, it is hoped that such cameras could someday find use in applications such as surveillance, endoscopy or even in micro air vehicles. A paper on the research was published today in the journal Nature.

Scientists at Germany’s Cognitive Interaction Technology Center of Excellence at Bielefeld University have also created a 280-degree artificial bee’s eye, although it utilizes a single lens.

Source: University of Illinois

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

quite a cool concept, would be interesting to see how effective the results are.

Calum Mchaffie

I agree. If they are going to announce it why couldn't they provide example imagery? I think the author also picked up on that as the line "The picture reportedly has no visual aberrations, and an almost infinite depth of field." reads like jab at the guys releasing the info on it. They could provide cleverly photographed pictures of the device but not one image taken with it?


Gizmag often jumps the gun on new ideas....new inventions...if they have some interesting graphical element. I'm ok with that if those fantasy projects are salted in with some more "ready to go" items that make up the bulk of our daily hit. But we are all left feeling the big hole in this bug eye story....no picture. Just one.....pleeeease.


Is the software not ready or able yet to stitch them altogether?

Bob Flint

That would be apparent depth of field, not true depth of focus.

Jerry Peavy

I will not necessarily criticize this idea so much as offer an alternative approach. How about finding a way to fully integrating an array of micro lenses across the surface of an OLED display to effectively provide a screen displaying an image while capturing yours. Think of a communications window to both or many parties in a conference call.


No camera POV image... No story.

John Hagen-Brenner

automobile vision systems ? panoramic movies? (3D?) Yard art security systems? non-touch(non visible?) touch screens? (interferometry?)


I agree with John Hagen-Brenner on this. You tell us of a breakthrough but do not let us see the results. Premature article. Phooey.

Dan Lewis
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