Researchers Develop New Digital Camera Technology Inspired By Insect Eyes

Love 'em or hate 'em, security cameras are everywhere, and given the world we live in, it's unlikely that they'll ever go away. Instead, they're more likely to grow in numbers, especially once technology like the following takes hold.

One of the greatest limitations of the traditional camera lens is its limited field-of-view. In a corner of a convenience store, for example, there's likely to be many gaps the camera's oblivious to - especially directly beneath it. And if Deus Ex: Human Revolution has taught me anything, those same limitations will still exist in 2027. For photographers, capturing a long building in a single shot can prove difficult even with a high-end wide-angle lens. 

Unless this insect-inspired lens design comes to market, that is. I have no interest in becoming an insect, but I can't help but admire some of them for their extreme field-of-vision. Their curved eyes allow them to see a lot in a scene, and react to situations quicker than those with human eyes can. If a baseball were to be flying through the air towards the side of your head, you're not going to see it as a human, but a fly certainly could. Pretty fly for a wide eye.

Gaining such a wide-angle view is just one benefit here. Due to the large number of light sensors that an insect eye has, everything can appear sharp in a scene regardless of whether they are far or near - something traditional lenses have a difficult time with, and likely always will. 

The challenge in building a lens like this is that in biology, everything is curved, not flat and rigid like in most of our electronics. There's little doubt that this challenge can be overcome, but it remains a difficult one. The general design will mimic an insect eye as much as possible, where an array of microlens will be connected to posts sitting atop silicon photodetectors. The lens in its final form would be about 1cm in diameter - certainly not beefy enough for a city street, but it could be ideal for a tight corridor and potentially useful on a smartphone. With this design, the lens would mimic a "low-end insect eye", according to co-designer John Rogers. Past this creation, the goal will be to allow the lens to inflate and deflate in order to change its field-of-view.

As if the original design isn't complicated enough.

Tags:  camera, lens, Biology