Scientists have built a digital camera inspired by the compound eyes of insects like bees and flies. The camera’s hemispherical array of 180 microlenses gives it a 160 degree field of view and the ability to focus simultaneously on objects at different depths.
Human eyes, and virtually all cameras, use a single lens to focus light onto a light-sensitive tissue or material. That arrangement can produce high-resolution images, but compound eyes offer different advantages. They can provide a more panoramic view, for example, and remarkable depth perception.
The new artificial version, created by by John Rogers and colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and described today in Nature, could potentially be developed for use in security cameras or surgical endoscopes.
“The resolution is roughly equivalent to that of a fire ant or a bark beetle,” Rogers wrote in an email to Wired. “With manufacturing systems more like those in industry, and less like the academic, research setups that we are currently using, we feel that it is possible to get to the level of a dragonfly or beyond.”