A tiny camera that hitches a ride on the backs of beetles

Researchers Build Tiny ‘Backpack Camera’ Light Enough To Strap To A Beetle Can Wirelessly Livestream Footage From A Bug’s Eye View.

A “camera backpack” has been invented by researchers at the University of Washington, which has been attached to beetles for a point-of-view perspective into their daily life. Described as a “GoPro for beetles,” the camera can be controlled by a smartphone.

Shyam Gollakota and his colleagues at the University of Washington in the US have developed a small steerable camera that can be affixed to beetles to transmit footage from their surrounding environment in real time.

The camera uses Bluetooth to stream footage to a smartphone at a resolution of 160 by 120 pixels, and at a rate of between one and five frames per second. It sits on a mechanical arm that can be remotely controlled to pivot the camera frame left and right.

Capturing footage while beetles move has a power-saving advantage over insect-like robots or drones, says Gollakota. “That mobility really drains the battery a lot,” he says. “By combining these two different things – living animals with sensors – you’re basically getting the best of both worlds,” says Gollakota.

Science Robotics has published a paper about the new invention in its latest journal. Remarkably weighing just 250 milligrams (one-tenth of a playing card), the “low-power, low-weight, wireless camera system” can “capture a first-person view of what’s happening from an actual live insect or create vision for small robots.”

Despite its miniscule size and weight, the camera sits atop a mechanical arm that is capable of pivoting 60 degrees in order to take panoramic images. It can even stream footage at a rate of up to five frames per second, feeding back to a smartphone in real-time. Not bad, given how tiny it is. The researchers behind the beetle cam used an “ultra-low-power system.”

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Co-lead author Vikram Iyer said:

 We can track a moving object without having to spend the energy to move a whole robot. These images are also at a higher resolution than if we used a wide-angle lens, which would create an image with the same number of pixels divided up over a much larger area.

In their current system the team has no control over where the beetles choose to move. Using tens or hundreds of beetles would enable more comprehensive monitoring or mapping out of an environment, says Gollakota. “As they spread out you can collect enough information that you don’t need to control the insects,” he says. In total, the device weight just over half a gram, and it can be removed from the beetles.