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Swiss group builds insect-inspired camera system with 180-degree vision

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There's a race underway to bring insect-like compound eyes to micro drones. Curvace, a research group from Switzerland, is the latest to announce a compound eye invention with its Curved Artificial Compound Eye (CACE) prototype, made up of a strip of small cameras. Curvace is competing with a bug inspired camera system from the University of Illinois, which detailed its own compound eye system at the beginning of the month. Both systems aim to do the same thing — mimic the vision of a fly, which relies on compound eyes to track minuscule movements with a wider field-of-view and deeper depth of field than the human eye, or moden single camera setups, can even attempt to reach.

Two CACE devices side-by-side produce a 360-degree field of view

Curvace's CACE prototype is built as a flattened strip about the size of a quarter, and promises 180-degree sight. Put two of the prototypes side-by-side, and a 360-degree field-of-view is possible, according to a report from IEEE Spectrum magazine. The Curvace prototype is also built to be flexible, allowing the strip of cameras to be bent over a curved surface. The University of Illinois compound camera setup performs similarly to what Curvace has come up with, but it does so by placing its cameras on a dome that has the rounded look of an eyeball. In a report published in the May issue of Nature, the university says its prototype, which is made up of 180 cameras working in unison, is similar in function to the eyes of moths, lobsters, and houseflies.

Both inventions will likely have militaristic implications. The University of Illinois is funding its insect-inspired camera system, in part, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — which has a well known interest in drones. Meanwhile, Curvace is receiving a portion of its funding from the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies program.