Researchers develop multifaceted insect eyes for UAVs

A team of researchers from the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) have developed a tiny new set of electronic eyes for drones that are based on the multifaceted peepers of insects. These eyes are built specifically for the next generation of very small surveillance UAVs -- like that origami quadcopter EPFL developed earlier this year -- and operate very differently than the conventional cameras currently employed. Insect eyes aren't capable of generating a high spatial resolution (that is, the number of pixels you can pack into a single image) so they instead rely on quickly reacting to changes in how light reflects or objects appear as the insect moves. The new camera works the same way.

It's comprised of a lens on top of three triangular electronic photodetectors. By measuring how quickly objects appear in and move across each detector, the UAV can figure out its speed and direction. The sensor measures just two cubic millimeters square and weighs a paltry two milligrams but can still detect motion three times faster than your standard housefly. What's more, the sensor can operate equally well in both low, indoor lighting and exterior sunlight.

To help the drone see everywhere at once (thereby making it impervious to swatting attempts) the team also developed "vision tape" which is, basically, a strip of tape with a bunch of these eyes attached. The strip can reportedly be affixed to any curved surface -- whether that's another robot, industrial machines, even furniture and clothing.

[Image Credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF]