Artificial Bee Eye Helps Mini Flying Robots See Better

bee photo

Photo by joosteto via Flickr CC

The use of biomimicry has become increasingly helpful in robotics, but it's mainly been helpful in devising better ways for robots to move, whether swimming like a fish, flying like a butterfly, or crawling like a caterpillar. But researchers seem to be moving on to other aspects of robotics, including vision. And in this area, it seems bees are ideal models for improving how robots see the world. According to New Scientist, researchers working on miniature robotic aircrafts are looking at one of nature's most perfect flying machines -- the bee. Neurobiologist Wolfgang St├╝rzl and his team at Bielefeld University in Germany have created an artificial bee eye with a 280-degree field of vision that gives the robot a maximized wide-angle view of the world with just a single camera. Using lenses and mirrors -- similar to the look and function of a bee eye -- a composite image is created that provides a fisheye view. The camera can work fast enough to provide 25 frames per second.

In their set-up, a dome-shaped mirror, with a lens at its centre, was placed 20 millimetres in front of the camera's charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensor chip, with its convex surface facing towards the camera. The lens focuses light from in front of the camera onto the CCD to create an image with a 110-degree field of view. At the same time, the convex face of the mirror captures a reflection of the world behind the camera and focuses this light onto the CCD, widening the field of view to 280 degrees.

By creating a lens that mimics a honeybee's eye there is hope that micro air vehicles can be even more functional without any added weight. Considering insects are already perfectly evolved for zipping around with high accuracy and low energy use, researchers have plenty of examples for how to craft our own mechanized versions of them.

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