Like the insects’ eyes, the Fraunhofer technology is composed of many small, uniform lenses positioned into 135 tiny facets close together, similar to the pieces of a mosaic. Each facet receives only a small section of its surroundings. The insect’s brain aggregates the many individual images of the facets to a whole picture. At CES 2017, Fraunhofer researchers have presented facetVISION camera with micro-lenses and aperture arrays that take over these functions. Due to the offset of each lens to its associated aperture, each optical channel has an individual viewing direction and always depicts another area of the field of vision.

This technology was developed together with scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen and was funded by the Fraunhofer-Zukunftsstiftung. Thousands of facetVISION camera lenses can also be manufactured in large quantities at the Fraunhofer IOF in wafers similar to those applied in the semiconductor industry.

With a camera thickness of only 2mm and resolution of up to 4MP, it’s suitable in medical engineering (e.g. optical sensors) to quickly and easily examine blood. In the printing industry, such cameras are needed to check the print image at high resolution while the machine is running. Furthermore, cameras in cars can help in parking or in industrial robots that prevent collisions between man and machines.

This compound eye technology is also suitable for integration into smartphones. Today’s mini camera lens is normally 5mm thick in order to show a satisfactorily sharp image of the surroundings. Thus, manufacturers of ultra-thin smartphones face the challenge of "camera-bump"–the unaesthetic "camera bulge." The camera lenses for smartphones are, however, not made on wafers, but in injection molded plastic.

“We would like to transfer the insect eye principle to this production technology," said Andreas Brückner, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena. "For example, it will be possible to place several smaller lenses next to each other in the smartphone camera. The combination of facet effect and injection moulded lenses will enable resolutions of more than 10MP in a camera requiring just a thickness of around three and a half millimeters."