Like spiders helped to create a miniature depth sensor

Despite all the technological advances, none of them comes close to what you are capable of evolution. It is therefore not surprising that mankind regularly “steals” the wildlife ideas to create something new. Take, for example, jumping spiders. These little creatures have an impressive sense of depth. Despite their tiny brain, it allows them to accurately pounce on unsuspecting targets at a great distance from them. Inspired by these spiders, researchers from the Harvard School of engineering and applied Sciences John A. Paulson (SEAS) have developed a compact and effective sensor depth.

Nature can sometimes surprise the fact that you can make!

What is the sensor depth?

Usually, this term refers to the ToF-sensor (stands for Time of Flight) is a special sensor that emits light and records the speed of its reflection from the object. Knowing the time of reflection, on the basis of the speed of light you can calculate the exact distance to the object. Many modern depth sensors, for example in the phone, use the built-in light sources and multiple cameras to measure the distance. For example, Face ID on the iPhone uses thousands of laser points for reading the contours of the face. It works for big gadgets with good batteries, but what about small devices with limited computing power and battery, such as a smart watch?

Evolution has created a large variety of optical configurations and vision systems that are adapted to different tasks, says Junsung Shi, candidate of physical and mathematical Sciences and one of the lead authors of the work. Optical nanotechnologies, finally, allow us to create artificial depth sensors and other systems that are as diverse and effective as those that nature has created.

People measure the depth using your vision system, that is, when we look at an object, each of our two eyes sees a slightly different picture. Try the following: hold your finger directly in front of the face and alternately open and close the eyes. See how “moving” your finger? Our brain takes these two images, and explores, based on how displaced objects, calculates the distance to your finger.

This calculation is when you take two images and perform a comparison of the relevant parts is quite complex. People have big brains for such calculations, but spiders no.

Jumping spiders have developed a more effective system for measuring the depth. In every eye of the spider there are several layers of the retina with different degrees of transparency, and they perceive the object at the same time. When the spider is looking for, say, a fly with one eye, one retina it will be more clear, on the other — are more blurred. The change of focus and allows the brain spider to determine the exact distance to the victim. Did you know how the vision system of spiders? And we, among others, regularly write for you something interesting on our page in Yandex.Zen. So subscribe!

In “computer vision” this type of distance calculation known as “depth to defocus”. But still to recreate something like this required a large camera with a mechanical internal components that can capture images with a varying degree of focus. And then come to the aid of metalens.

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Metalyse is a lens that splits light and generates two different refocusing image on the image sensor. The algorithm then processes these two images and builds a kind of “depth map”, indicating the distance to the object.

Metalens is an extremely promising technology that makes the sensors much more efficient, faster, but much easier than existing lenses. The new technology will open a wide range of possibilities in science and technology.

In particular, new development is perfect for improving the technology focus cameras, better images. In the scientific field, we get better telescopes and sensors microbots and other robots that will make their orientation in space is even better.

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