Robots and devices continue to dominate our daily lives, they increasingly need to see in 3D, but as shown by the notch on their iPhone, depth detection cameras are still quite large. A new approach inspired by how certain spiders perceive the distance that separates them from their prey could change that.
Jumping spiders have no place in their hairy little heads for structured light projectors and all the rest. However, they must see where they are going and what they are taking to be effective predators. How did they do it? As is often the case with arthropods, in a very strange but interesting way.
Instead of having multiple eyes capturing a slightly different image and capturing stereo signals, each eye of the spider is itself a depth detection system. Each eye has multiple layers, with transparent retinas that see the image with different amounts of blur depending on the distance. The different blurs of different eyes and different layers are compared in the small nervous system of the spider and produce an accurate measure of distance, using very little “material”.
Harvard researchers have created a high-tech lens system using a similar approach to detect depth without traditional optical elements.
The “metals” created by electrical engineering professor Federico Capasso and his team detect an incoming image in the form of two similar images with different amounts of blur, like the spider’s eye. These images are compared using an algorithm similar to that of the spider, at least in the sense that it is very fast and efficient. The result is a small and charming calculation of the full depth of the image in real time.
The process is not only efficient, which means that it can be done with very little hardware and computing power, but it can also be extremely compact: the one used for this experiment was only 3 millimeters in diameter .
This means that it could be included not only in autonomous cars and industrial robots, but also in small gadgets, smart home products and, of course, phones; It will probably not replace a face ID, but it’s a start.
The article describing the metalens system will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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