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Revolutionary Depth Sensor Inspired by Spider Eyes

Image credits: Sebastian Janicki/

New depth sensors have been developed by researchers at Harvard, who looked to the eyes of jumping spiders for inspiration. The sensors were created to have a highly accurate depth perception that is characteristic in these spiders.

Nature Inspires Science

Scientists have long looked to nature to inspire new technological innovations. Researchers have previously looked at the mechanism of the sticky tentacles of jellyfish to develop a method of capturing cancer cell proteins in the blood, as was successfully created at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Research has also been done into copying the biology of the water strider insect which has the ability to walk on water to create mechanical versions with the same capabilities. The applications of which are yet to be fully realized.

Now scientists have taken inspiration from how the eyes of jumping spiders function to give them incredibly efficient depth perception, and are applying this to sensor technology.

Technology That Copies Animal Eyes

It’s not the first time scientists have looked to how animal eyes work to inform their inventions. A team a the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently innovated new digital camera technology that copies the way bees and mantises eyes work.

The technology incorporates a field of micro-lenses, which give a 180-degree view. In addition to this, 2017 saw the development of the LEXID (Lobster Eye X-ray Imaging Device), by the Physical Optics Corporation. The prototype gun was inspired by the way lobsters eyes allow them to see through murky water, utilizing this same method to allow us to see through objects.

Eight Eyes Leads To Increased Depth Of Field Perception

The team of scientists at Harvard set out to design sensors with the capacity to better measure depth. Current modern technology heavily relies on depth of field sensors, smartphones, for example, use depth sensors to make features such as face unlock possible.

The phone applies laser dots to the users face to map it out, but the current drawback to the method is that it relies on a fast processor and a large battery. For this reason, the researchers at Harvard wanted to create more efficient sensors that can rely less on the power of processors and batteries. In developing this, the addition of similar functions, such as face unlock, to smaller devices would be possible.

Jumping spiders were identified as a source of inspiration due to their ability to jump to heights multiple times the length of their own bodies. This kind of capability relies on a heightened perception of depth of field.

As humans, we only have two eyes to capture the field of vision from two separate angles. A spider, on the other hand, has a more efficient depth perception system to inform its movements.

Each spider eye has layers of retinas that input visual information with different levels of blur. Depth perception is a result of the degree of blur in an eye against the crisp image produced in another.

The Harvard team develop a revolutionary new lens, a metalens, with the capacity of producing two images with different levels of blur, at the same time, mimicking the system seen in jumping spiders. However, instead of creating the image through using a layered retina, the team developed a lens which instead splits the light and produces two differently-defocused images side-by-side within a photosensor.

An algorithm is then used to evaluate the two images, and as a result produces a depth map. Scientists believe that the new camera with its metalens and algorithm will have numerous applications, notably within technologies like wearables, lightweight VR headsets and micro-robots.

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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