A new digital camera developed by scientists takes its inspiration from the compound eyes of insects.
An insect-inspired camera developed by John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and announced in Nature May 1, consists of a hemispherical surface studded with a dense array of lenses and photo detectors.
Today’s digital cameras‘ charge-coupled devices, or CCDs, are built on flat (planar), rigid silicon wafers. The breakthrough that Rogers and his team have been working on, and which makes this possible, is to develop sensors that are curved. This has already had an application by Monash University researchers working on the first artificial retina.
What we’ve done is…to create an array of photodetectors, plus an array of microlenses, using technologies already developed, but instead of leaving it in a planar geometry, we build it in a configuration so they are stretchable and can be deformed like latex…in biology, everything is curvy
The new device, which Rogers and his colleagues describe today in Nature, comprises an array of microlenses connected to posts that mimic the light-funnelling cones of ommatidia, layered on top of a flexible array of silicon photodetectors. The lens–post pairs are moulded from a stretchy polymer called an elastomer. A filling of elastomer dyed with carbon black surrounds the structures, preventing light from leaking between them. The lens is about 1 centimetre in diameter.
The whole thing is stretchy and thin, and we blow it up like a balloon” so that it curves like a compound eye, says Rogers.
The current prototype produces black-and-white images only, but Rogers says a colour version could be made with the same design. Rogers made the device work by predicting the mechanics of how his designs would stretch before building them — to make sure that the lenses would not be distorted when the device was inflated, for example.
Rogers says that his next project is to go “beyond biology”, by inflating or deflating the camera to adjust its field of view.
- Nature: doi:10.1038/nature.2013.12914