Bug Eye For the Smart Guys

Inspired by the fly eye, this digital camera -- sporting nearly 200 tiny lenses -- can take sharp images with an exceptionally wide-angle field of view. Photo by John A. Rogers, University of Illinois.

Inspired by the fly eye, this digital camera — sporting nearly 200 tiny lenses — can take sharp images with an exceptionally wide-angle field of view. Photo by John A. Rogers, University of Illinois.

This wide-angled lens is better than your fancy-schmansy SLR telephoto lens, I guarantee it. And just how can I guarantee it? Because your technology is planar.

You’ve got to go spherical.

A collaboration of scientists between Northwestern University and the University of Illinois recently did something pretty cool – they managed to create a curved camera with a nearly 180-degree field of view. To do it, they looked to nature for inspiration. Just like a fly’s eye, the team setup 180 microlenses around a hemisphere, each capable of taking individual images. When hooked up to the proprietary software, the new camera can take some pretty nifty shots.

You might be thinking, “Wow. Really nobody has done this before? Because making a camera made of smaller cameras like a bug’s eye seems pretty obvious.” Well, yeah, sure it kind of is. But the technology to make it a reality is much less so.

Pretty much all of the components in a camera are flat. The lenses focus light onto detectors constructed on silicon wafers, which can’t be bent or flexed in the slightest. To even begin to think about creating an eye like this, one would have to start out with flexible materials.

That makes the partnership of Northwestern’s Yongang Huang and the University of Illinois’ John A. Rodgers the natural choice for the genesis of such a project. The team has worked together for years to develop a line of stretchable electronics and various devices using the technology.

“Existing camera imaging technology is flat, and we made a system that is curvilinear,” Huang said. “Making a stretchable array of photodetectors was easy — that’s what we do. The difficult part was making a hemispherical lens. We needed to make sure the lens experienced as little strain as possible when stretched.”

So what does one do with a sweet camera like this? The obvious answer is spy technology, which is probably why it was funded in part by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or good old DARPA. But I’m sure it could have some good medical uses too. Just imagine what one of those cool pills that you swallow with a camera inside could do.

But first, the team is going to move on to create an entirely spherical camera with a 360-degree field of view. I swear my mother already had one growing up.

The paper, “Digital Cameras With Designs Inspired By the Arthropod Eye,” was published in Nature by Huang and Rodgers, as well as Young Min Song, Yizhu Xie and Viktor Malyarchuk, all of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and first the co-first authors of the study.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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One Response to Bug Eye For the Smart Guys

  1. Pingback: Powering a Pacemaker with the Heart it Keeps in Rhythm | Big Ten Science

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