August 7, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

New Camera Imitates Eyeball

Scientists at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University have succeeded in manufacturing stretchable optical electronic sensors on curved surfaces.  This will open up a whole new world of new imaging products – inventions that imitate the human eyeball.  The team said this about the eyeball in their paper in Nature:1 

The human eye is a remarkable imaging device, with many attractive design features.  Prominent among these is a hemispherical detector geometry, similar to that found in many other biological systems, that enables a wide field of view and low aberrations with simple, few-component imaging optics.  This type of configuration is extremely difficult to achieve using established optoelectronics technologies, owing to the intrinsically planar nature of the patterning, deposition, etching, materials growth and doping methods that exist for fabricating such systems.  Here we report strategies that avoid these limitations, and implement them to yield high-performance, hemispherical electronic eye cameras based on single-crystalline silicon…. In a general sense, these methods, taken together with our theoretical analyses of their associated mechanics, provide practical routes for integrating well-developed planar device technologies onto the surfaces of complex curvilinear objects, suitable for diverse applications that cannot be addressed by conventional means.

Commenting on this new technology in the same issue of Nature,2 Takao Someya (U of Tokyo) remarked that flat-field imagers used up till now suffer from distortion and non-uniform brightness.  He said that the new breakthrough came because the researchers “have drawn inspiration from animals’ eyes and have succeeded in eliminating these fundamental limitations of conventional artificial-vision systems.”  What can we expect from this invention?  Compact health-monitoring devices, ultra-compact cameras with less distortion, adaptive focusing mechanisms, and more gadgets for industry and the home – maybe high-resolution, bright cell-phone cameras, for instance.
    Someya even foresees using the technology to imitate insects’ compound eyes “with exceptional dynamic visual acuity” and fish eyes “that have a 360° field of view.”  It’s an exceptional advance in optical engineering, he said.  Where did it come from?  “These and other types of biologically inspired device should become feasible given the advances in optical engineering made possible by the advent of geometrically transformable and stretchable-compressible electronics and optoelectronics” – something animals, insects and fish have had all along.
    The UK Telegraph said this invention “heralds a cyborg revolution.”  Reporter Roger Highfield quoted team member John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  “We believe that some of the most compelling areas of future application involve the intimate, conformal integration of electronics with the human body, in ways that are inconceivable using established technologies,” he said.  “This approach allows us to put electronics in places where we couldn’t before.  We can now, for the first time, move device design beyond the flatland constraints of conventional systems.”  See also the Science Daily report.

1.  Rogers, Ko et al, “A hemispherical electronic eye camera based on compressible silicon optoelectronics,” Nature 454, 748-753 (7 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07113.
2.  Takao Someya, “Optics: Electronic eyeballs,” Nature 454, 703-704 (7 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/454703a.

How much did this discovery owe to the theory of evolution?  Zip.  The word was absent in all the papers and articles about it.  How much did it depend on intelligent design (i.e., reverse-engineering a contrivance with “attractive design features”)?  That was the whole point.
    Now, if they can get their silicon eyes to work for 90 years, clean themselves, repair themselves, focus themselves, adjust themselves, point themselves, automatically process images, automatically concentrate on useful information, perform at 126 megapixel resolution with motion imaging and reproduce themselves, they will begin to approach the engineering your Creator installed in your eye sockets.  Let’s give credit where it’s due.  Speaking of long-lasting performance, Methuselah’s eyes apparently lasted 969 years.
Footnote:  The prior week, Nature allowed the foul-mouthed, profane blooter for evolution, PZ Myers, to rant about the “scourge of creationism” in his review of a pro-evolution book by Ken Miller (07/31/2008 issue.)  Having eyes, they see not.

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