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Beetle Mounted Cameras Give Scientists A Bugs-Eye View Of The World

by : Emily Brown on : 18 Jul 2020 14:58
Beetle Mounted Cameras Give Scientists A Bugs-Eye View Of The WorldBeetle Mounted Cameras Give Scientists A Bugs-Eye View Of The WorldPaul G. Allen School/YouTube

Researchers have developed a ‘GoPro for beetles’ that will allow scientists to see the world from the perspective of a bug. 

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People often wish they could be a ‘fly on the wall’ in certain situations, and with the invention of the tiny, wireless camera it seems the possibility might not be as far-fetched as you might anticipate.

The clever piece of technology has been created by a team at the University of Washington in the US, who have figured out a way to make the entire camera rig weigh just 250 milligrams. For reference, that’s about a tenth of the weight of a playing card, so it’s pretty darn light.

You can learn more about the camera here:

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The low-powered ‘beetle cam’ can stream up to five frames per second of black and white footage to a nearby smartphone. The footage is low resolution, capturing just 160×120 pixel images, but while it might not be the 4K view we’ve got used to on TV, it will still allow viewers to see experience a bug’s life.

Detailing the creation in the Science Robotics journal, as per BBC News, the scientists explained the sensor is mounted on a mechanical arm that can shift from side to side. As a result, the camera can pan from left to right and scan the environment, in turn allowing it to capture a higher-resolution panoramic image.

The camera and arm are controlled via Bluetooth from a smartphone, from a distance up to 120 metres away.

To conserve battery and make sure scientists don’t have to sit staring at one view if the bug decides to take a break, the camera is equipped with an accelerometer, meaning it only takes pictures when the bug is moving. Thanks to the accelerometer, the camera is able to operate for six hours on a full charge.

Commenting on the creation in a press release, senior author Shyam Gollakota said:

Vision is so important for communication and for navigation, but it’s extremely challenging to do it at such a small scale. As a result, prior to our work, wireless vision has not been possible for small robots or insects.

BeetleBeetlePaul G. Allen School/YouTube
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None of the beetles used in the camera experiment were harmed, and they are said to have ‘lived for at least a year’ after the end of the experiment.

Using what they learned from the bugs’ movements, the researchers produced an independent insect-sized camera robot, which moves by vibrating and can travel about three centimetres a second.

Beetle with camera held by plyersBeetle with camera held by plyersPaul G. Allen School/YouTube

Gollakota acknowledged that such small cameras could result in new surveillance concerns, and stressed the importance of putting the information into the public domain ‘so people are aware of the risks and so people can start coming up with solutions to address them’.

The scientists expect the technology to be useful for biology and exploring novel environments.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Animals, Beetle, camera, Insects, Now, Science, University of Washington

Credits

Paul G. Allen School/YouTube and 2 others
  1. Paul G. Allen School/YouTube

    Wireless Steerable Vision for Live Insects and Insect-scale Robots

  2. BBC News

    Beetle-mounted camera streams insect adventures

  3. University of Washington

    A GoPro for beetles: Researchers create a robotic camera backpack for insects