To save energy, many insects swivel their head—instead of their entire body—to scan the world around them. Researchers have now replicated this with a tiny camera with a one-of-a-kind arm they can maneuver from a smartphone. The total system weighs just 248 milligrams—less than a dollar bill.
When strapped onto a beetle’s back, the camera can stream video in close to real time. It can also pivot to provide a panoramic view from the beetle’s perspective (as seen in this video). What’s more, when the camera was mounted onto an insect-size robot, the bot used up to 84 times less energy by moving the arm of the camera instead of its entire body.
The technology is one of the smallest, self-powering vision systems to date, researchers report this month in Science Robotics. In the future, scientists could use these tiny cams to gain insight into the habits of insects outside the lab.