The eye of an insect and the view it has of the world is very different to human eyes see. Each insect eye is typically made up of hundreds or thousands of corneal lenses (lots of smaller eyes, basically), each of which captures a part of the overall view the insect has.While I wouldn’t trade my sight for that of an insect, the design of such an eye does have uses in the development of new cameras. And a research team at the University of Illinois has managed to create a new camera that views the world just like an insect does.Each smaller eye, known as an ommatidium, an insect eye uses is made up of a corneal lens, crystalline cone, and a light sensitive organ. What the team at Illinois did was to create an artificial ommatidium out of rubbery optics that could be laid out as a mesh structure and stretched or deformed. Combining 180 of these microlenses in a hemispherical layout formed an artificial version of the eye found on a fire ant.A camera that sees the world in this way is desirable because it offers up a 180 degree field of view with a near infinite depth of field and perfect focus in every part of the captured image. It can see much more than a typical single-lens digital camera, and therefore has uses in areas such as surveillance and medical science (endoscope cameras).Creating such a camera required a number of advanced manufacturing techniques and materials that have been developed at the university over the past several years, as well as the supporting software that stitches the images the eye captures together.A successfully working artificial insect eye is only the beginning, though. The fire ant relies on 180 ommatidia, but other insects have significantly more. For example, a dragonfly uses 28,000 of them. So as the manufacturing of such an eye is perfected, we will no doubt see the number of microlenses increase and the quality of the output enhanced.
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