Scientists develop ‘bug cam’ for beetles

Posted by Anita Froneman on 16 July 2020

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the secret world of insects? Scientists at the University of Washington have developed a tiny wireless steerable camera that can be attached to the back of insects to gain insight into their daily activities.

Scientists develop 'bug cam' for beetles

The minuscule camera was mounted on the backs of several beetles.

‘We have created a low-power, low-weight, wireless camera system that can capture a first-person view of what’s happening from an actual live insect or create vision for small robots,’ said senior author Shyam Gollakota, a UW associate professor, according to the University.

‘Vision is so important for communication and for navigation, but it’s extremely challenging to do it at such a small scale. As a result, prior to our work, wireless vision has not been possible for small robots or insects.’

The camera pack is feather light, weighing in at 250 milligrams — about one-tenth the weight of a playing card and can be fitted to insects like dung beetles.

Researchers completed a study, mounting these cameras to different species of beetles.

Co-lead author Vikram Iyer

‘We made sure the beetles could still move properly when they were carrying our system,’ said co-lead author Ali Najafi, a UW doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering. ‘They were able to navigate freely across gravel, up a slope and even climb trees.’

The team also built robotic beetles as part of the study. ‘By understanding the trade-offs made by insect vision systems in nature, we can design better vision systems for insect-scale robotics in a way that balances energy, computation, and mass,’ they state in the research paper.


Image credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

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