Engineers in Illinois have invented a new kind of eye-like camera that avoids some basic limitations of ordinary cameras and could lead to a host of novel devices based on curved or flexible electronic components.
Reporting in Wednesday's edition of the journal Nature, the team from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University drew inspiration from the curved retina of the mammalian eye, which has a simpler design than most man-made cameras.
Instead of the rods and cones that detect light in an eye, the engineers made a curved array of tiny photodetectors and circuits.
The group, led by University of Illinois engineering professor John Rogers, placed the camera's silicon components on an elastic flat surface that could then pop back into the shape of a hemisphere. Such bending often breaks the brittle semiconductors in such circuits, but the group overcame that by using small photodetectors connected by thin wires on flexible plastic bridges.
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Although the new design is not likely to overtake the current generation of cheap consumer cameras, it could find uses in military surveillance or space missions, which often require small cameras with a wide field of view.
Rogers also said he is working with biomedical researchers to develop curved and flexible sensors that could be used to get detailed readings of electronic signals in the brain or the heart.