Several times in these posts I end up mentioning how scientists are learning more and more by observing how Nature solved problems through millions of years of evolution and how this knowledge is then leveraged for creating new technical solutions.
And this one is another instance of that. When developing a lens optical engineers have to fight distortion and depth of field,
that is a limited amount of a scene can be on focus. However, it has been noted that insects do not face this kind of problem. A fly needs a “macro lens” to focus at just 3 mm from its head and it also needs to focus a few meters away to see any incoming danger. This would be impossible for a lens, and for our eye as well!
How could the fly overcome optical limitations that are rooted in physics? Well, by using other parts of physics!
Flies, as most insects, have composite eyes, that is they have hundreds of eyes each one with a very small aperture providing huge depth of field, everything is in focus. They make up for the lower aperture (less light) by having many eyes. Moreover, the eyes are geometrically disposed on a curved surface that avoid distortion.
Now scientists have created a sensor mimicking the insect composite eye to produce a camera with incredible depth of field and no distortion. As you can see in the photo the sensors are placed on a curved surface made possible by flexible connections among the various elements.
First application of this sensor is expected in endoscopic instruments where the depth of field is crucial.