Compiled by BioPhotonics staff
EVANSTON, Ill. – A camera resembling the human eye but with
a superhuman zoom function is now a reality, and it is only the size of a nickel.
The curvilinear “eyeball” camera, developed by researchers
from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
has a 3.5x optical zoom, takes sharp images and is inexpensive to make. Once optimized,
the tunable camera is suitable for applications including night-vision surveillance,
robotic vision, endoscopic imaging and consumer electronics.
The scientists were inspired by the human eye but wanted to take
the technology one step further. Their goal was to develop a simple camera that
could zoom in on a subject and capture high-quality images. Combining the advantages
of the human eye with those of an expensive single-lens reflex camera with a zoom
lens, the tiny camera features the simple lens of a human eye, allowing it to remain
small. However, it also has the zoom capability of a single-lens reflex camera,
but without the bulk or weight of a complex lens.
Whereas earlier “eyeball” cameras had rigid detectors,
the simple lens and photo-detector of this camera are on flexible substrates, and
a hydraulic system can change the shape of the substrate to enable variable zoom.
The research was published online by Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, Jan. 18, 2011 (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015440108).