CurvACE gives robots a bug eye view

Robots are getting down to the size of insects, so it seems only natural that they should be getting insect eyes. A consortium of European researchers has developed the artificial Curved Artificial Compound Eye (CurvACE) which reproduces the architecture of the eyes of insects and other arthropods. The aim isn’t just to provide machines with an unnerving bug-eyed stare, but to create a new class of sensors that exploit the wide field of vision and motion detecting properties of the compound eye.

The consortium, made up of researchers from CNRS, Aix-Marseille Université, EPFL at Lausanne, Fraunhofer Institute at Jena, and Université de Tuebingen, want to make a bit of a paradigm shift when it comes to camera design. Currently, most cameras are based on simple eyes. That is, the sort of eyes found in humans as well as those of other vertebrates and some molluscs. Essentially, it’s a box with a lens at one end and a retina at the other. This simple, yet elegant, arrangement has many optical advantages, but it isn’t the only way to make an imaging device.
The major alternative used in nature is the compound eye. This is a dense mosaic made up of many tiny eyes. When you look at a dragonfly, for example, you’ll notice that the head is almost all eye. Or rather, a collection of eyes. In this arrangement, each facet of a compound eye is a fully functional eye. The major difference is that by making an eye up of segments, the entire organ has much lower resolution. To put it in everyday terms, if a person had compound eyes, they’d each have to be as big as the entire head to have the same resolution as regular eyes.