Technology 3 min read

Compact Depth Sensor for Microrobotics Developed



A new depth sensor inspired by spiders could be the future of micro-robotics, augmented reality, and wearable devices.

Today, most electronic devices come with a depth sensor.

For example, iPhones have a Face ID for biometric security. Similarly, video game consoles also come with depth sensors to enhance the gaming experience.

As you may have noticed, not only do these devices have large batteries, but they have fast computers too. As a result, manufacturers have no problem integrating a technology that senses depth into these products.

But, what about small devices like microrobots and smartwatches with limited battery and computation power?

The researchers at Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed an alternative. Inspired by jumping spiders, the researchers developed a more efficient system to measure depth in small devices.

The Jumping Spiders’ Depth-Sensing Capability

Jumping spiders don’t process depth as humans do.

Each principal eyes of these spiders have a few semi-transparent retinae arranged in layers. Using these retinae, the arachnid can measure multiple images using a varying amount of blur.

For example, a jumping spider that looks at a fruitfly using one of its principal eyes would see a sharper image in one retina. The other retina, on the other hand, would produce a blurrier image.

The spider then uses the change in a blur to calculate its distance from the fly. In computer vision, this type of distance calculation is called depth from defocus.

Researchers replicated the spider’s depth-sensing technique, but with limited effectiveness.

They had to use large cameras with motorized internal components that can capture differently-focused images over time. This resulted in a depth sensor with minimal speed and practical application.

But the researchers at SEAS had a better idea.

A Metalens Depth Sensor Inspired By Jumping Spider

In previous research, the team showed off metalenses that can simultaneously produce several images containing different information. Using that study, the researchers designed a new metalens that can simultaneously produce two images with different blurs.

In a statement to the press, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physics and co-first author of the paper, Zhujun Shi said:

“Instead of using layered retina to capture multiple simultaneous images, as jumping spiders do, the metalens splits the light and forms two differently-defocused images side-by-side on a photosensor.”

The researchers then use an ultra-efficient algorithm to interpret the two images and build a depth map that represents object distance.

According to the researchers, the new metalens depth sensor could open up a wide range of opportunities in science and technology. For example, we could have produced an improved vision system for microrobots, A.R, and wearable devices.

Read More: Researchers Develop Psychosensory Electronic Skin Technology

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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