Engineers Develop a Tiny Camera Backpack for Insects - Nerdist
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Engineers Develop a Tiny Camera Backpack for Insects

In another demonstration of tiny tech moving in big leaps, researchers at the University of Washington have built a camera backpack for insects. The miniature GoPro, which was reported by PetaPixel, is showcased on live beetles in the video below. And the shrunken camera not only boasts impressive stats. It’s also a similar look to the remote-controlled roach from The Fifth Element.

The researchers at UW described their tiny wireless camera for insects in a paper recently published in the journal Science Robotics. The authors of the paper, including co-lead authors Vikram Iyer and Ali Najafi, et al., refer to the camera as a “fully wireless, power-autonomous, mechanically steerable vision system.”

The mini Bluetooth-controlled camera rig, which weighs in at just 248 milligrams—or one-tenth the weight of a playing card. That makes it very insect friendly. The rig is about as wide a thumbnail according to the picture immediately below, and doesn’t seem to hinder the beetles in the video. Both of the study’s co-lead authors are UW doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering. In a UW News post, Najafi said it “made sure the beetles could still move properly when they were carrying [the] system.”

Researchers at the University of Washington have created a camera backpack for insects.

Mark Stone/University of Washington

The rig is outfitted with a camera that streams black-and-white video to a smartphone at 1 to 5 frames per second. The camera also sits on a mechanical arm that’s able to pivot 60 degrees left or right. That allows for high-resolution panoramic shots or object tracking. Power comes from a 10–milliamp hour battery, which provides enough energy for the camera to record for six-plus hours depending on the beetle’s movement.

“One advantage to being able to move the camera is that you can get a wide-angle view of what’s happening without consuming a huge amount of power,” Iyer said in the UW News post. “We can track a moving object without having to spend the energy to move a whole robot.”

Researchers at the University of Washington have created a camera backpack for insects.

Mark Stone/University of Washington

The researchers note that the camera rig, which can be controlled from 400 feet away, is itself inspired by the kind of vision system found in many insects. This setup allows the insects to save on the resting energy used to power the visual processing parts of their brains. Likewise, the camera rig saves energy by shrinking its field of view in favor of being moveable.

The researchers have also designed “the world’s smallest terrestrial, power-autonomous robot with wireless vision,” though they admit that the tiny camera-bot, which is powered by vibrations, could be a threat to privacy. Which, they say, is part of the reason they’re making this research public. Hopefully that’ll be enough to help us avoid any potential IRL Zorg insect snoops.

What do you think about this tiny camera rig for insects? Do you think tech like this is going to lead to serious privacy invasion issues? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Feature image: Mark Stone/University of Washington

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