The future of espionage. Wireless video camera on the back of the beetle broadcasts video up to 120 meters

Researchers at the University of Washington Seattle School of Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical and Engineering Departments have developed conceptual design of a video camera weighing 248 mg (plus a 0.5 g battery), which is attached to the back of a beetle or a microrobot.

Black and white video 1-5 fps with a resolution of up to 160 × 120 px is transmitted via Bluetooth at a distance of up to 120 meters. The lens rotates 60 °. Smartphone control.

Previously, scientists conducted experiments on remote control beetles (2009), moth (2008) and cockroaches (2012) by stimulating the brain with electrodes, so this is a very promising related development. In fact, now a camera module has been made for radio-controlled insects.


Cockroach radio module. Photo: University of North Carolina, 2012

Remote control of cockroaches is not just a scientific development. DIY kits for medical surgery and electronics for installation on a cockroach already went on sale

DIY kit for installation on a cockroach

Cockroach operation at home

There are good results in experiments on the implantation of cells with biofuel to power electronics in living insects (see. scientific work of 2012), that is, all the elements of the puzzle of creating a spy bug or cyborg cockroach with a remote control are added together.

However, specifically the new video camera is powered not from a biocell, but from a 0.5 gram 10 mA battery. This is enough for 6 hours of work when installed on a regular black beetle. Of course, you can make a homemade mobile robot, but so far human development models cannot match the agility and power of real insects, whose design has been honed over millions of years of evolution.


Miniature wireless video camera options for black beetle and mobile robot

The researchers had to start the development of the new video camera from scratch, because no existing solutions are suitable. Even the smallest swallowed video cameras, which are filmed inside the human body, with batteries weigh more than 1 gram, which is too much for a beetle or cockroach.

Focusing on small size and efficiency, they started with a commercially available ultra-small CMOS sensor that is 2.3 mm wide and 6.7 mg in weight. They also chose a Bluetooth 5.0 chip (3mm wide, 6.8mg) and began experimenting how to pair the two with a minimum of intermediate equipment to broadcast the camera signal.


Field trials of a beetle with a video camera

The working chamber also required a lens (20 mg) and an antenna, a 5 mm wire. An accelerometer was installed on the board so that the movement of the insect can be used to trigger the camera, minimizing redundant footage from a dormant beetle or a stationary robot on recharge.

The last piece of the diagram is a mechanically controlled “head” weighing 35 mg and bringing the weight of the wireless camera to 84 mg. This is an off-the-shelf 60-degree drive that was developed by colleagues at the University of Washington for their miniature flying robots. Unfortunately, the piezoelectric drive requires a 96 mg boost converter. This is a huge cost, but the researchers took this step because they can’t really control the beetle – and have to rotate the camera if necessary.

Research Article “Wireless guided vision for live insects and robotic insects” Vikram Iyer, Ali Najafi, Johannes James, Sawyer Fuller and Shyamnat Gollakota of the University of Washington published July 15, 2020 in the magazine Science Robotics (doi: 10.1126 / scirobotics.abb0839).

To place such a video camera on a bee or a fly, additional optimization is needed, because the same bumblebee lifts no more than 100-200 mg of the payload. The main limitation here is the power supply system, so it is advisable to use solar cells on the bumblebee.



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