A team from the Fraunhofer IOF Institute in Germany is working on a project called facetVISION Camera. Their objective is to build ultra-thin cameras and microscopes. The current technology, inspired by the mammalian eye, has reached its limits in terms of size, the best example being the bulge in your smartphone camera.
In order to miniaturize cameras, the research team at Fraunhofer IOF needed to develop another technology and found inspiration looking at the eyes of the male Xenos peckii, a parasite of the Northern Paper Wasp. Insects usually have compound eyes, which consist of tiny lenses, called facets, and a few receptor cells. They are very compact, but have low resolution. Mammalian eyes have a single lense to focus light onto a sheet of receptor cells, the retina. That is how we get higher resolution, but at the cost of bulkiness.
However, the eyes of male X. peckii are a compromise between these two extremes. The other advantage of this technology is the possibility to have a wider field of view at a low cost. So far, the project’s researchers have succeeded in making a camera with 135 facets that is only 2mm thick, but that has a resolution of one megapixel. Now the team is aiming to achieve a four megapixel resolution, which is enough for many applications, including medical probes, smartphones, or cameras in cars.
The project website (http://www.facetvision.de/) is highly interesting and offers a detailed explanations.