Inspired by the complex fly eye, an interdisciplinary team led by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University has developed a hemispherical digital camera with nearly 200 tiny lenses, delivering exceptionally wide-angle field of view and sharp images.
Humans capture pictures using the two lenses of our relatively flat eyes, while a top-of-the-line SLR camera has just one flat lens. The new camera -- a rounded half bubble, similar to a bulging fly eye -- has 180 microlenses mounted on it, allowing it to take pictures across nearly 180 degrees. Only a camera shaped like a bug's eye can do this.
With this wide-angle field of view, the new technology could be used in future surveillance devices or for imaging in endoscopic procedures. The researchers say it would be simple enough to combine two of the hemispheres they've demonstrated to get a 360-degree view.
Details of the bio-inspired camera, which required experts in optics, electronics, fabrication, and modeling and design theory, will be published in the May 2 issue of the journal Nature.
"What we have, in a sense, is many small eyes on one big eye," said Northwestern's Yonggang Huang, a senior author of the paper. "Each small eye, composed of a microlens and a microscale photodetector, is a separate imaging system, but when they are all taken together, the camera can take a clear picture, with just one snap, of nearly 180 degrees.
"The interface of different fields generates interesting new devices that never existed before," he said. Huang is the Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Huang's lab was responsible for the modeling and design theory for the project, which took the whole team three years to complete.
The digital camera is just the latest innovation in a long and fruitf
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