Scientists equip beetles with tiny camera backpacks that reveal insects’ secrets
We have a new innovation in the scientific quest to create high-tech backpacks for animals., and have had their moments. Now is the time for the beetles that carry tiny panoramic cameras.
“We have created a low-power, low-weight wireless camera system that can capture a first-person view of what’s going on from an actual living insect or create a vision for small robots,” said Shyam Gollakota of the University of Washington, main author of a article on the system published in the journal Science Robotics Wednesday.
The university released a video that highlights how the camera works by streaming black-and-white images to a phone. The app also allows researchers to control camera rotation for panoramic views.
The team tested the backpack on a death-mimicking beetle and pinacate beetle and monitored them to make sure they could move around unhindered. The beetles didn’t seem to mind the small amount of extra weight, and they lived for over a year after the project ended.
“This is the first time that we have had a first person view of the back of a beetle as it wanders”, said co-author Vikram Iyer.
The camera is capable of operating for over six hours on battery power when used with an accelerometer that triggers the camera only when the beetle is moving. Future versions could use solar power.
The camera works just as well on small robots as it does on insects. The researchers said they built “the world’s smallest autonomous ground robot with wireless vision” for this project.
The low-powered insect-sized robot moves thanks to vibrations, although it has to interrupt its movements to take a stable image with the camera.
The camera system for beetles isn’t just scary. It could help scientists learn more about insects and how they react to their environment. It could also indicate a new way to collect visuals in hard-to-reach areas.
And maybe one day we’ll have a scarab version of The Blair Witch Project.