Engineers Develop Camera That Mimics Human Eye
Engineers at IniLabs in Switzerland have used lessons from nature to create a more efficient digital camera that resembles the human retina.
Their latest camera named the Dynamic Vision Sensor (DVS) reacts solely to changes in a given image.
This approach takes out large amounts of redundant information and could be important for applications such as surveillance, robotics, and microscopy.
The eye’s retina sorts through massive amounts of information while operating on only a fraction of the power that digital camera’s and computers need for that same task.
“Your eye and my eye are digital cameras too. They are just a different kind of digital camera,” says Tobi Delbruck, the chief scientific officer at iniLabs. “We had machine vision that was as good as possible with existing architecture and hardware. But compared to biology, machine vision is pathetically poor.”
A normal camera captures everything it sees, storing the information to be processed later. This is very inefficient and uses up a lot of power and memory space. Neurons in the eye however become active only when they sense a change, such as when a specific part of an image gets lighter or dimmer. The DVS mimics this sensitivity, sending information solely in response to a change in the image. This takes less power and leaves less information to be processed.
This feature could be especially useful for recording images that do not change often. For example, when sleep researchers record their subjects they are later forced to search through hours of footage to see something interesting. With a sensor like the DVS, important, active parts of information are automatically highlighted.
The DVS is created to work with IBM’s revolutionary TrueNorth computer architecture. TrueNorth is a programming approach that mimics biology, in the way information is stored, processed, and shared in a network of “neuromorphic” computer chips, inspired by the neural networks in the brain.
“What we’re talking about, the cameras sending information when something changes, is actually a very central theme to how the brain works, or at least how neuroscientists think it works,” says Nabil Imam, a computer scientist at Cornell University, who is part of the Cornell team that helped IBM develop its neuromorphic chips. “We’re capturing brain features at a high level.”
By combining the DVS camera with TrueNorth architecture, Delbruck and his team think they will be able to create a device that’s better at handling dynamic, real-time problems than any digital camera system out there today.
The Inilab DVS camera is available for about $2,700 and has been used in several research projects so far, including one that recorded traffic and one that involved tracking particles in a fluid. The researchers plan to improve the device. Their next goals are to add color sensors and to enhance the camera’s retina from its current resolution of 240×180 pixels.