Small flying drones can soon avoid collisions in cluttered spaces thanks to an artificial eye inspired by insect vision.
The elementary eyes developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology can detect motion three times faster than swift moving insects.
The new sensor developed by the team weighs only two milligrams and is as small as a sesame seed. It is an improvement over bulkier digital cameras used on drones for vision.
The eye is best suited for drones that weigh 50gm or less, and lift payloads weighing a few grams, reports the MIT Tech review.
It is made of a lens placed above three electronic photodetectors arranged in a triangular pattern.
The device makes judgements on speed and direction of motion based on combined measurements from the individual photodetectors.
While mini drones have been employed in a range of activities from spying to delivering supplies at disaster sites, the insect eye can help miniature navigation systems in confined spaces.
Avoiding collisions is still a major technical challenge, says Dario Floreano, director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
The artificial eye is versatile and can detect motion in poorly lit spaces and very bright sunlit outdoors.
Algorithms developed can be programmed onto chips to calculate distance and time.
The challenge, says Floreano, will be to combine multiple artificial eyes to allow the drone a 360 degree view to avoid collisions, stabilise its flying position, land, and take off.
Flying bugs avoid collisions thanks to tiny eyes that are very sensitive to the way light is reflected in relative motion.