A bug’s eye view: Scientists create camera backpack for insects

Date:16 July 2020 Author: Adrian Brown

If you found the beloved animation “A Bug’s Life”, or the superhero tale “Ant-Man”, intriguing, then this will certainly get you excited. Scientists have created a camera that can ride aboard an insect, to get a view of the world from a bug.

Researchers at the University of Washington developed a small, wireless camera that can be put on an insect. The camera streams footage to a smartphone at 1 to 5 frames per second, and it is on a mechanical arm that is able to pivot 60 degrees. The system weighs about 250 milligrams.

In order to test their equipment, the scientists placed it on live beetles and insect-sized robots. They published their results on July 15, in Science Robotics.

“We have created a low-power, low-weight, wireless camera system that can capture a first-person view of what’s happening from an actual live insect or create vision for small robots,” said senior author Shyam Gollakota, a UW associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“Vision is so important for communication and for navigation, but it’s extremely challenging to do it at such a small scale. As a result, prior to our work, wireless vision has not been possible for small robots or insects.”

Small cameras generally use a lot of power to capture good photos. The camera’s themselves are not too heavy for the insects to carry, but the batteries required are.

“Similar to cameras, vision in animals requires a lot of power,” said co-author Sawyer Fuller, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “It’s less of a big deal in larger creatures like humans, but flies are using 10 to 20% of their resting energy just to power their brains, most of which is devoted to visual processing. To help cut the cost, some flies have a small, high-resolution region of their compound eyes. They turn their heads to steer where they want to see with extra clarity, such as for chasing prey or a mate. This saves power over having high resolution over their entire visual field.”

While this is an exciting creation, the team is aware of the privacy risks that it could bring.

“As researchers we strongly believe that it’s really important to put things in the public domain so people are aware of the risks and so people can start coming up with solutions to address them,” Gollakota said.

Image: Screenshot from video

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