AI News, Robotic Insect Eyes Destined for Next-Gen Micro Drones

Robotic Insect Eyes Destined for Next-Gen Micro Drones

Just a few weeks ago, IEEE Spectrum wrote about an artificial compound insect eye that was developed by a group of researchers based in the United States.

The most successful class of animals ever, the arthropods, have gotten along just fine with compound eyes for a very long time, and the most sophisticated eyes of any animal are of the compound variety (belonging to our friend the mantis shrimp).

The eye to come out of EPFL this week is unique because it offers a huge insect-like field of view, very fast performance under all sorts of lighting conditions, and most notably, it's mechanically flexible: at just 1 mm thin, you can bend it into different shapes.

It's amazing how the use of this flexible substrate enables sensors that are not just bio-inspired, but in fact end up nearly identical to the types of compound eyes that you find on everything from flies to trilobites.

It also works indoors, outdoors, in bright sun, and in shade (or even moonlight), and has no trouble adapting to abrupt transitions between any of these states, which is something that conventional cameras are lousy at.

And there's no reason to stop at just one of 'em, either: put a couple CurvACE sensors together and all of a sudden you have a 360 degree panoramic sensor system the size of a couple of quarters:

Miniature curved artificial compound eyes

Thus, such a prototype could also be used in Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) to support a large number of navigation tasks, such as egomotion estimation (34), collision avoidance (6, 7), and flight control (8, 9, 35), at low and high speeds, even in complex indoor and outdoor environments.

The CurvACE design principle also allows for flexible customization of artificial ommatidia in terms of their number, size, focal length, and interommatidial and acceptance angles, according to the requirements of the intended use.

The artificial ommatidia could be further tailored by taking inspiration from the extraordinary eye regionalization found in insects and crustaceans, where specific parts of the compound eye serve specific functions.

For example, higher acuity (36) may be obtained by increasing ommatidial resolution in defined areas, which could be achieved by decreasing both the acceptance angle and the interommatidial angle through redesigned microlenses and a reduced photodetector size with a consequent loss of signal-to-noise ratio.

A CurvACE prototype with a truly omnidirectional FOV, reminiscent of the eye morphology of most flying insects, would be especially interesting for egomotion estimation and better navigational support in three dimensions in a minimal package, providing an advantageous alternative to current cumbersome arrangements based on catadioptric or fish-eye lenses (9).

Laboratory of Intelligent SystemsLIS

The vertebrate eye has provided inspiration for the design of conventional cameras with single-aperture optics to provide a faithful rendering of the visual world.

The insect compound eye, in spite of bearing a comparatively lower resolution than the vertebrate eye, is very efficient for local and global motion analysis over a large field of view (FOV), making it an excellent sensor for accurate and fast navigation in 3D dynamic environments.

Furthermore, the fabricated CURVACE will bear mechanical adaptability to a range of shapes and curvatures, and some versions will offer space within the convexity for embedding processing units, battery, or additional sensors that are useful for motion-related computation.

An artificial elementary eye with optic flow detection and compositional properties

The artificial elementary eye has been designed following optical parameters of fruit fly ommatidia that enable it to extract the optic flow.

In the experimental visual data, we search Δfij that minimizes the mean squared error between the photodetector signals of the ij pair in data windows of 350 points, that is, one experimental second, for the whole 30 s of the experiment.

The optic flow values identified in the 30-s period are collected, and the mean and standard deviations for the optic flow vector module and for the angle are plotted against the constant rotational speed of the robot (figure 4b,c).

As predicted by theory [24], the norm of the measured optic flow matches the yaw rotational speed, regardless of the roll angle at which the elementary eye is fixed (figure 4b), and the optic flow angle matches well the roll angle in the four studied cases (figure 4c).

The increasing standard deviation of the OF angles at lower rotational speeds are likely because of the light adaptation mechanism of the analogue VLSI circuit [20,25], which yields an exponential decay of the signal over time in the absence of visual contrast.

The capability of the artificial elementary eye to extract vectors of optic flow is demonstrated in an environment displaying natural-like features and of about 400 lx of illuminance, which corresponds approximately to the illumination of a standard office.

An Artificial Compound Eye

Visual lab exercise of Bionics of Sensing at Hochschule Rhein-Waal.

The View From a Bug's-Eye Camera With 180 Lenses

Scientists in the journal Nature reported this week that they have created a tiny compound camera that mimics the perspective of a small insect, with 180 micro-lenses and a 160-degree field of vision.

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Test of the IR compound eye and the RGB LED eyes. More info at

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