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Digital cameras with designs inspired by the arthropod eye


In arthropods, evolution has created a remarkably sophisticated class of imaging systems, with a wide-angle field of view, low aberrations, high acuity to motion and an infinite depth of field1,2,3. A challenge in building digital cameras with the hemispherical, compound apposition layouts of arthropod eyes is that essential design requirements cannot be met with existing planar sensor technologies or conventional optics. Here we present materials, mechanics and integration schemes that afford scalable pathways to working, arthropod-inspired cameras with nearly full hemispherical shapes (about 160 degrees). Their surfaces are densely populated by imaging elements (artificial ommatidia), which are comparable in number (180) to those of the eyes of fire ants (Solenopsis fugax) and bark beetles4,5 (Hylastes nigrinus). The devices combine elastomeric compound optical elements with deformable arrays of thin silicon photodetectors into integrated sheets that can be elastically transformed from the planar geometries in which they are fabricated to hemispherical shapes for integration into apposition cameras. Our imaging results and quantitative ray-tracing-based simulations illustrate key features of operation. These general strategies seem to be applicable to other compound eye devices, such as those inspired by moths and lacewings6,7 (refracting superposition eyes), lobster and shrimp8 (reflecting superposition eyes), and houseflies9 (neural superposition eyes).

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Figure 1: Schematic illustrations and images of components and integration schemes for a digital camera that takes the form of a hemispherical, apposition compound eye.
Figure 2: Computational and experimental studies of the mechanics associated with assembly of a hemispherical, apposition compound eye camera.
Figure 3: Operating principles of a hemispherical, apposition compound eye camera and representative pictures.
Figure 4: Imaging characteristics of a hemispherical, apposition compound eye camera.


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The work on integration schemes and mechanical designs was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Nanoelectromechanical /Microelectromechanical Science & Technology (N/MEMS S&T) Fundamentals programme under grant number N66001-10-1-4008 issued by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SPAWAR). The work on materials, optical modelling and imaging aspects was supported by the National Science Foundation through an Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) programme.

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Y.M.S., Y.X., V.M., J.X. and J.A.R. designed the experiments, Y.M.S., Y.X., V.M., J.X., I.J., K.-J.C., Z.L., H.P., C.L., R.-H.K., R.L., K.B.C., Y.H. and J.A.R. performed the experiments and analysis. Y.M.S., V.M., J.X. and J.A.R. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to John A. Rogers.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Song, Y., Xie, Y., Malyarchuk, V. et al. Digital cameras with designs inspired by the arthropod eye. Nature 497, 95–99 (2013).

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