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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Animals in the deep sea have evolved impressive eyes to distinguish shapes in their scarcely-illuminated marine environments, revealing aquatic mysteries unavailable to us – until now.

Cuttlefish have curious W-shaped pupils, allowing them to see regions closer to the brighter ocean surface or darker ocean floor with the same contrast. They can even spot shapes hidden from our own sight thanks to their finely-designed pattern of photoreceptors capable of reflecting polarised light.

Earlier this year, biological and electrical engineers cooperated to apply their understanding of this process towards successfully fabricating the very first artificial vision device inspired by the cuttlefish eye. The artificial eye consists of a glass ball with a W-shaped hemisphere carved into it, capable of taking high-contrast pictures under uneven illumination. Silicon photodiodes at the back function as artificial photoreceptors after being coated with a flexible film of aligned carbon nanotubes for sensing polarised light.

The researchers made two artificial eyes – one equipped with a circular and the other with the W-shaped pupil – and compared their ability to detect a motorcycle moving along a street from a brighter to a darker area. They found that the W-shaped lens identified the motorcycle more successfully.

The cuttlefish-inspired camera’s resolution is still too poor for industrial development and, unlike its natural counterpart, can only detect polarised light along a specific direction. Nevertheless, the design holds promise for improved wide-angle imaging to be installed in the next generation of driverless cars or drones.

Article by Andrea Rogolino

Image credit: David Sim

Image licence: Attribution (CC BY 2.0)

The image has been cropped