Miniature robotic camera backpack shows how beetles see the world

Rodiano Bonacci
Luglio 17, 2020

Their machine weighs about 250 milligrams - all over 1-tenth the weight of a playing card - and streams video to a smartphone at one particular to five frames per 2nd.

The team's research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics.

'Vision is so important for communication and for navigation, but it's extremely challenging to do it at such a small scale. "As a outcome, prior to our get the job done, wi-fi eyesight has not been feasible for small robots or insects".

The robot used in the tests is the smallest power-autonomous terrestrial robot with wireless vision, according to the paper.

The breakthrough here isn't about the size of the camera, but how much power is consumed. "To aid minimize the price tag, some flies have a small, superior-resolution location of their compound eyes". They switch their heads to steer wherever they want to see with more clarity, such as for chasing prey or a mate. "This saves power over having high resolution over their entire visual field".

Their large compound eyes can detect motion across a wide field of view (it's why they're so hard to swat) but also feature a small, high-resolution region that can focus on prey or other targets, which helps reduce the load on their tiny brains. The arm moves when a high voltage is applied (which bends the material). Unless the team applies more power, the arm stays at that angle for about a minute before relaxing back to its original position.

"One advantage to being able to move the camera is that you can get a wide-angle view of what's happening without consuming a huge amount of power", co-lead author Vikram Iyer said.

'We can track a moving object without having to spend the energy to move a whole robot'.

The researchers note that the camera rig, which can be controlled from 400 feet away, is itself inspired by the kind of vision system found in many insects.

The researchers attached their device to two different beetle species, the death-feigning beetle (Asbolus laevis) and the Pinacate beetle (Eleodes nigrina). Both of those have been observed carrying up to half a gram at a time. Here a Pinacate beetle explores the UW campus with the camera on its back. The beetles successfully navigated them all, even managing to climb the tree. The beetles didn't seem to be bothered by the small amount of extra weight and they lived for over a year after the project ended. "Then it only captures images during that time", Iyer said.

Despite the limited streaming and image quality capabilities, the battery life of the beetle camera is pretty impressive.

The camera is capable of functioning for over six hours on battery power when used with an accelerometer that triggers the camera only when the beetle moves.

Previously attempts to generate innovative cameras have also sought to mimic the vision of insects. Future versions could use solar power. While the setup worked, the vibrations distorted the overall image, so the team had the robot make a short stop, take a picture, and resume moving.

Caption: Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a tiny camera that can ride aboard an insect-sized robot they designed.

"As researchers we strongly think that it is actually vital to put items in the public area so people are knowledgeable of the risks and so folks can start out coming up with alternatives to deal with them", Gollakota reported.

Uses for the camera could range from biology to exploring uncharted environments, its developers say.

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