Researchers build "Bug Eye" Camera with 180 Lens Flexible Array

The design of most camera lenses reminds us of the human eye, with an iris that opens up more to let in more light as needed. Those lenses then project the image onto a flat imaging sensor or film.

But, the eyes of many insects have large numbers of tiny lenses, usually arranged in a spherical pattern to to give them a totally different view of the world than you or I would see. These are usually referred to as compound lenses (as you'd find on a common house fly), and in the future we be able to take advantage of the best features of that type of eye design via sophisticated digital camera technology. That's because a team of researchers led by Professor John Rodgers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is working on technology to mimic what an insect's eye may see.

Their first effort is a prototype camera using a 180 lens array with 180 separate sensors, and Nature Magazine published an article submitted by the research team titled "Optical devices: Seeing the world through an insect's eyes that goes into the technology used.

Thanks to advances in flexible electronics and micro lens designs, combined with advances in computer and software, these new arrays are able to combine the images from each of the camera's 180 sensors, this type of camera can offer a number of advantages like a very wide field of view with virtually unlimited depth of field, along with virtually no distortion like you'd have with a traditional single lens camera design.

The current prototype developed by the researchers is limited to a 160 degree field of view, with limited resolution. But, as the technology evolves, we could see more sophisticated designs that see in all directions at once, with computer technology and software making it feasible for use in a wide variety of applications like endoscopic use for medicine, surveillance systems and more; and we can imagine newer software that could provide for 3D oriented views of landscapes, home interiors and almost anything else you'd want to record images of. We live in exciting times.

Images of the camera prototype - John A. Rogers, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:


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See the article about this camera published in the nature.com journal at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v497/n7447/full/nature12083.html

To see more of the fascinating technology being developed by the research teams led by Professor John Rogers, go to http://rogers.matse.illinois.edu/