Scatterings image

Image of the "compound eye" digital camera lens.

Scientists looking to mimic the vision of tiny insects have developed a multilens imager that offers the benefits of compound eyes.

The researchers, representing several institutions, created the artificial “fly’s-eye” using flexible materials and a novel fabrication technique. The resulting camera offers a very wide field of view, low aberration, a nearly infinite depth of field and a great ability to perceive motion (Nature 497, 95).

For most electrical and optical materials, forming rounded shapes places immense mechanical strain on a system, which is why multilens systems to this point have been arrayed on flat, or planar, surfaces. To gain the benefits of insect-like eyes, the team had to think flexible.

The group used polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a soft, transparent polymer, to form the microlenses. Each lens is supported by a separate base, and all are connected by a thin membrane also made of PDMS. Silicon photodetectors held within each lenslet are connected by flexible, serpentine wires. The researchers used a pneumatic system to induce the flexible array, electronics and all, into a hemispheric shape.

“Current fabrication technologies are all planar in nature,” said co-developer Jianliang Xiao of the University of Colorado, Boulder, U.S.A.”The pneumatics-based fabrication process we designed can provide a means of transforming the systems fabricated in planar geometry into the nicely shaped hemispheres that are required for insect eyes.”

The hemispheric imager may find use in surveillance cameras or endoscopes.

 “We are scaling sizes down, scaling resolution up and exploring features not found in biology—such as the ability to tune the radius of curvature of the camera in a continuous, dynamic way, thereby providing an ability to tune between resolution and field of view,” said co-author John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.