As robots and gadgets proceed to permeate our everyday lives, they frequently need to see in 3D.

But as evidenced by the cut in your iPhone, depth-sensing cameras are still somewhat bulky. 

However, a new program motivated by how some spiders sense the range to their prey could change that.

Jumping spiders do not have room in their small, hairy heads for structured light projectors and all that sort of thing. 

Yet, they have to view where they are going and what they are taking to be efficient predators. 

How do they do it? 

Instead of having many eyes catching a slightly different image and using stereo cues from that, as we do, all of the spider’s eyes is in itself a depth-sensing method. 

Every eye is multi-layered, with clear retinas seeing the image with different quantities of blur depending on the distance. 

The differing blurs from several eyes and layers are connected in the spider’s small nervous system.

Plus they produce an exact distance measurement utilising amazingly little in the form of “hardware.”

Depth-sensing camera | iTMunch

Harvard Gets Inspired 

Researchers at Harvard have designed a high-tech lens system that practices a similar approach, producing the capability to sense depth without conventional optical elements.

The “metalens” built by electrical engineering professor Federico Capasso and his team identifies an incoming image as two related ones with various amounts of blur, like the spider’s eye does. 

These images are linked using an algorithm also like the spider’s, at least in that it is swift and efficient.

Plus the result is a delightful little real-time, whole-image depth calculation.

The process is not just efficient, meaning it can be achieved with very little computing hardware and power. Still, it can be remarkably compact: the one used for this research was only 3 millimetres over.

This means it could be involved not just on self-driving cars and industrial robots but also on small gadgets, smart home items and, of course, phones.

It apparently won’t substitute Face ID, but it is a start.

The paper detailing the metalens system will be issued today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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