A prototype camera comprises 180 independent lenses, comparable to the vision of a bark beetle. A dragonfly, in contrast has 28,000 individual lenses. Researchers hope to make a camera with that many, but need to make smaller components. The camera was announced in the journal Nature on May 1.
The technology is structured on how insects process light: hundreds to thousands of ommatidium (optical units that make up a compound eye) enable insects to nearly have a 180-degree field of vision and strong depth of field, while focusing simultaneously on objects at various distances.
"We now believe that we have a set of materials and fabrication techniques that allow us to build not only insect eyes, but also ocular organs found in other creatures in nature"
John Rogers, University of Illinois
One of the main technical obstacles that the researchers faced was a distortion problem found in traditional wide-angle, single-lens cameras. They overcame it by using flexible materials to bend the camera's parts.
The camera is only able to take black and white pictures in low resolution. A commercially viable camera is a long way off. That said, researchers see various applications for the new camera, including endoscopy as well as surveillance that could include flying insect robots.
The RoboBee robotic insect had its first controlled flight last summer, but the flight and the project was detailed in the May 3 issue of the journal Science. Researchers at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences spent over a decade developing the technology and materials to make it.