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Scientists Build Electronic Lens That Works Like A Fly's Eye

A team of engineers has achieved a novel digital imaging success by creating a digital camera that functions much like an insect's eye.

The device features 180 individual lenses clustered on a dome, which take in light from a wide angle. This is similar to how insect eye works, with each part of the compound eye capturing light over a broad angle, and the insect's brain assembling all the different signals into a picture of the world.

Though insect eyes have lower "resolution" than our own human eyeballs, they have fantastic depth perception and field of vision. They're able to see objects far away or very nearby without having to focus, and they can see over wide angles without corrupting the image. This gives the new compound eye an advantage over existing digital "fisheye" lenses, which distort images.

The research is a stepping stone for future developments, which will certainly be more sophisticated and incorporate more lens elements. In the future, these tiny lenses could give remarkable field of view to cameras in spy systems, medical imaging devices like endoscopes, and perhaps even in simple robotics.

Similar advances in plenoptics and microscopic-scale cameras suggest that our idea of what a "camera" is quickly changing.