Tiny, Steerable 'Robotic Backpack Camera' for Insects

Vision is vital for communication and navigation, but it is very challenging to do it at a very small scale. Now, researchers at the University of Washington  have created a tiny wireless camera that can ride on top of an insect. Prior to this work, wireless vision had not been possible for small robots or insects. Typical small cameras, like those used in smartphones, use a lot of power to capture wide-angle, high-resolution photos, which doesn’t work at the insect scale. The new system's black-and-white camera streams video to a smartphone at 1 to 5 frames per second and sits on a mechanical arm that can pivot 60 degrees. This allows a viewer to capture a high-resolution, panoramic shot or track a moving object, while expending minimal energy. The system weighs about 250 milligrams, or about one-tenth the weight of a playing card. To demonstrate the system's versatility, the team mounted it on top of live beetles and insect-sized robots.