Robotic digicam system strikes together with bugs in flight

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Right now, the only way to get stable video of insects in flight is to clip them in place – which some people would say they don’t actually “fly” at all. Now, however, French scientists have developed a camera platform that moves the insect through the air.

The robotic system was developed in collaboration between CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), the University of Lorraine and INRA (National Institute for Agricultural Research).

Known as a Lab-on-Cable, it contains a small cube-shaped frame that is equipped with two tiny PixyCam cameras and a high-speed camera. This rig is suspended in the air in an enclosed area by a series of cables.

The current cable housing measures 6 x 4 x 3 m (19.7 x 13.1 x 9.8 ft).

Mélanie Jouaiti and Dominique Martinez

While the target insect flies through the air, the PixyCams track their position in three-dimensional space stereoscopically. Using this data, the system responds instantly by selectively pulling in or out the cables of the cube so that it can maintain its position relative to the insect. In this way, the high-speed camera can obtain stabilized images of the insect, in which the animal remains centered in the frame at all times.

It’s actually no different than a tiny version of the Skycam system used for film production and sports coverage, which has a wired camera moving through the air over your moving subject.

So far, lab-on-cables have been used successfully to track and film free-flying Agrotis ipsilon moths moving at a speed of 3 meters per second. In the future, it is hoped that the technology can be used to better understand the orientation strategies of insects such as fruit flies and mosquitoes.

An article on the research was published in Science Robotics this week.

You can see the camera platform in action, along with the video it recorded, via the link below.

Source: CNRS