VSL:SCIENCE // An artificial eyeball

The human eye is often cited as the paragon of biological design, an example of how a blind watchmaker (natural selection) can still engineer a device of startling elegance and complexity. So it’s only logical that when human engineers were looking to invent a new kind of camera, they stole some ideas from the eyeball.

Their challenge was finding a way to re-create one of the most impressive features of the eye, which is the ability to achieve wide-angle views with minimal distortion. (Current camera technology can focus on just a small area of space, since it relies on flat light sensors.) The scientists overcame this technical hurdle by imitating the layout of the retina, embedding light sensors in a curved concave surface. Although the artificial eye is still limited by its low resolution — it has only 256 pixels, versus at least 2 million in any digital camera — the scientists are optimistic that future silicon eyeballs will be able to replicate the technical specs of the retina, which can detect 10,000 colors and more than 7 million pixels per second.

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