In the movie Antman, the protagonist is able to shrink down to the size of an ant. During certain parts of the film, the viewer sees through the eyes of this character with an insect vision. The same is what has now been achieved by American scientists who have installed a camera behind the backs of desert beetles (Asbolus verrucosus) and pinacates (Eleodes).
“We have created a low-power, low-weight wireless camera system that can capture first-person images of what is happening from a live insect or create vision for small robots,” says Shyam Gollakota.
In their study, published in the journal Science Robotics, researchers at the University of Washington in the USA have developed a small, steerable wireless camera that can also be mounted on an insect, giving them the opportunity to see from the perspective of the superhero of Marvel.
” We have created a low-power, low-weight wireless camera system that can capture first-person images of what happens from a live insect or create vision for small robots, ” says Shyam Gollakota, associate professor at the American university. and lead author of the study.
The camera, which transmits the videos to a smartphone at a speed of 1 to 5 images per second, is located on a mechanical arm that can rotate 60 degrees. This allows you to get a high resolution panoramic shot or track a moving object while expending a minimal amount of energy.
To demonstrate the versatility of this system, which weighs about 250 milligrams, the team mounted it on top of live beetles and insect-sized robots. “ Vision is very important for communication and navigation, but it is extremely difficult to do it on such a small scale. Until now, wireless vision was not possible for small robots or insects, “says Gollakota.
Reduced battery usage
One of the main problems when using small cameras, such as those used in the latest generation mobiles, is that they use a lot of power to capture high-resolution and wide-angle photos. On the insect scale, this cannot be so, according to experts.
To mimic the vision of an animal, the researchers used a small, very low-power black-and-white camera that could scan a field of view with the help of a mechanical arm.
Although the cameras are lightweight, the batteries they need to support them make the overall system too big and heavy for bugs, or bug-sized robots, to charge. To solve this setback, the scientists were inspired by nature, in flies in particular, who only see in high resolution when they are interested and thus save energy in visual processing.
To mimic an animal’s vision, the researchers used a small , very low-power black-and-white camera that could scan a field of view with the help of a mechanical arm. This moved when the equipment applied a high voltage, causing the material to bend and move the camera to the desired position.
Unless the researchers apply more power, the arm remains at that angle for about a minute before returning to its original position. ” The advantage of moving the camera is that you can get a wide-angle view of what’s going on without consuming a lot of energy, ” says Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering and co-author of the paper.
” We can track a moving object without having to expend energy to move an entire robot. These images also have a higher resolution than if we used a wide angle lens, which would create an image with the same number of pixels divided over a much larger area, “he continues.
The camera and arm are controlled via Bluetooth from a mobile phone up to 120 meters away. After installing it on insects, accustomed to carrying out similar charges, the scientists made sure that they could still move correctly when transporting the mechanism . And they did it perfectly on gravel, climbing trees or climbing a slope. When the experiment ended, the insects lived at least another year.
Using an imaging accelerometer, the scientists were able to record for six or more hours , depending on the activity level of the beetle. Without this system, the recording lasted continuously for about two hours before the battery ran out.
With this system, the team also designed the world’s smallest autonomous ground-based robot with wireless vision . This insect-sized robot uses vibrations to move and consumes almost the same power as low-power Bluetooth radios. The next step for scientists will be to improve the battery using solar energy.
Vikram Iyer et al. “Wireless steerable vision for live insects and insect-scale robots” Science Robotics July 15, 2020