April 28, 2006

U.S. Scientists Create Artificial Eyes

Super-powered, they are modeled on those of insects, developers say

U.S. scientists say they've created super-powerful artificial eyes inspired by those of dragonflies and other insects.

"I've always wanted to create an advanced, three-dimensional optical system, but conventional microfabrication technology is two-dimensional. So, I started thinking about basing a fabrication system on the developmental stages of insect eyes that I'd learned about as a biophysicist and bioengineer," said principal investigator Luke P. Lee, professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkley.

The artificial eyes are the first hemispherical, three-dimensional optical systems to integrate microlens arrays -- thousands of tiny lenses packed side by side -- with self-aligned, self-written "waveguides," which are light-conducting channels created by beams of light, Lee explained.

He and his colleagues also created a low-cost, easy-to-replicate technique of creating pinhead-sized polymer resin domes spiked with thousands of light-guiding channels, each topped with its own lens.

The Berkley eyes may eventually be used as cameras or sensory detectors to collect visual or chemical information from a far wider field of vision than is currently possible, Lee said.

Potential applications for the artificial compound eyes include surveillance; high-speed motion detection; environmental sensing; medical procedures (such as image-guided surgery) that require cameras; and clinical treatments that can be controlled by implanted light delivery devices.

The eyes are described in the April 28 issue of the journal Science.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has information about eye health.