Photo: University of Illinois and Beckman Institute
The centimeter-wide digital camera has 180 microlenses—roughly what fire ants or bark beetles have in their compound eyes—placed on a hemispherical array. Researchers hope their design will eventually lead to insect-eye cameras that exceed even nature’s blueprints, according to a report in the 2 May issue of the journal Nature.
“We think of the insect world as an inspiration for design, but we’re not constrained by it,” says John Rogers, a physical chemist and materials engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s not biomimicry; it’s bioinspiration.”
Biological insect eyes consist of hundreds or thousands of the tiny units, each having a lens, pigment, and photoreceptors. Each unit’s lens is mounted on a transparent crystalline cone that pipes light down to the photoreceptors. Black pigment isolates each of the eye units and screens out background light.