Sat, June 15, 2024

Insect-Eye Cameras Offer 220-Degree View for Robots

insect cameras

Quick Look:

  • Inspired by insect eyes, featuring cheap, lightweight visual sensors for robots and autonomous vehicles.
  • Utilises perovskite nanowires and a 3D-printed hemisphere, offering up to a 220-degree field of view.
  • Effective in drone swarms and robotic dog tracking systems, enhancing navigation and motion sensitivity.
Researchers have designed artificial compound eyes inspired by insects, promising to revolutionise visual sensors for robots and driverless cars. These innovative cameras could offer a cost-effective, lightweight, and efficient solution, eschewing the need for expensive and precise lenses.

Cost-Effective Robot Cameras with Insect-Inspired Design

The new camera design draws inspiration from the compound eyes of insects, famous for their remarkably wide field of view. This design features cheap, simple, and lightweight visual sensors that hold immense potential for applications in navigation and tracking, particularly in robots and autonomous vehicles.

Dragonfly eyes, in particular, exhibit almost a 360-degree field of vision, thanks to their structure comprising many ommatidia—tubes, each equipped with a simple lens and basic photoreceptor. Replicating this in artificial systems poses significant challenges, primarily in covering a hemisphere with image sensors and creating multiple lenses to direct light onto a central sensor.

140-Degree View Breakthrough by Hong Kong Researchers

Zhiyong Fan and his colleagues at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have made a significant leap forward. They have developed a new design that utilises nanowires made from perovskite, a crystal material. The innovative cameras consist of a 3D-printed hemisphere, approximately 2 cm across, with 121 openings, each 1 mm in diameter.

Each opening is a pinhole camera, directing light onto a light sensor via the perovskite nanowire. The electronics then combine these individual images into a single coherent frame. This setup achieves a 140-degree field of view. Besides, extending the viewpoint to 220 degrees is possible by using overlapping pairs.

Wide-View Cameras for Drones and Robotic Dogs

The applications of this technology are vast and varied. One notable use is in drone swarms, where a wide field of view and motion sensitivity are crucial. Zhiyong Fan explains that they need to maintain a distance of a few meters from each other. For this, they must know their precise location and the relative speed at which they are approaching and moving away from each other. The compound eye plays a crucial role as it provides a wider field of view and sensitivity to motion.

Another promising application involves tracking systems for robotic dogs. A pair of smaller artificial compound eyes fitted with 37 light sensors. Moreover, they successfully mounted a quadcopter drone to track a robotic dog on the ground. Therefore demonstrating the technology’s versatility and effectiveness.

Compound Eye Cameras: A Supplement for Traditional Systems

While the compound eye design offers numerous advantages in simplicity, weight, and cost, it is not expected to replace traditional cameras entirely. Instead, these devices are anticipated to serve as supplementary tools, providing additional data that will be invaluable for robots and self-driving cars.

This innovative research has been published in the journal Science Robotics by Zhou et al. The paper elucidates the challenges faced by previous attempts to create microlens arrays on curved surfaces, which often encountered complications in the transfer process. The current breakthrough utilises a lens-free compound eye with a 3D-printed hemispherical pinhole structure and a perovskite nanowire photodetector array, marking a significant advancement in the field.

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