Artificial vision could be a reality thanks to an electric eye being developed by scientists


Artificial vision could be closer to reality, after scientists develop a tiny electric eye designed for use by microbots, which could ultimately help blind people too. 

Georgia State University researchers created the device using a new vertical stacking system, allowing it to be scaled down, and operate at micro-levels. 

The goal of the team, led by assistant physic professor Sidong Lei, is to create a micro-scale camera that could operate as the eyes of tiny robots, able to access areas humans, and larger scale bots can’t reach.

In the future, the team say the same technology could be adapted to bring vision to the blind, or improve color perception in the colorblind. 

Artificial vision could be closer to reality, after scientists develop a tiny electric eye designed for use by microbots, that has depth of color recognition

The device makes use of synthetic methods to mimic the biochemical processes that allow humans to see, a step towards a micro-scale robot camera. 

‘We illustrate the fundamental principle and feasibility to construct this new type of image sensor with emphasis on miniaturization,’ said Professor Lei. 

It improves color recognition when compared to earlier generation devices of the same size, and this is the most critical vision function, he said. 

Conventional color sensors typically adopt a lateral color sensing channel layout and consume a large amount of physical space and offer less accurate color detection. 

‘It is well-known that more than 80 per cent of the information is captured by vision in research, industry, medication, and our daily life,’ said prof Lei. 

‘The ultimate purpose of our research is to develop a micro-scale camera for microrobots that can enter narrow spaces that are intangible by current means, and open up new horizons in medical diagnosis, environmental study, manufacturing, archaeology, and many more.’  

Lei and his team say the vertical color sensing structure offers precise color recognition capability which can simplify the design of the optical lens system.

Ningxin Li, a graduate student who was part of the research team, says recent advancements in technology make the new design possible.

The goal of the team, led by assistant physic professor Sidong Lei, is to create a micro-scale camera that could operate as the eyes of tiny robots, able to access areas humans, and larger scale bots can't reach

The goal of the team, led by assistant physic professor Sidong Lei, is to create a micro-scale camera that could operate as the eyes of tiny robots, able to access areas humans, and larger scale bots can’t reach

‘The new functionality achieved in our image sensor architecture all depends on the rapid progress of van der Waals semiconductors during recent years,’ says Li.

‘Compared with conventional semiconductors, such as silicon, we can precisely control the van der Waals material band structure, thickness, and other critical parameters to sense the red, green, and blue colors.’

ARTIFICIAL VISION: IMPROVING COLOR CORRECTION

Biomimetic artificial vision is receiving significant attention nowadays, particularly for the development of neuromorphic electronic devices, artificial intelligence, and microrobotics. 

Nevertheless, color recognition, the most critical vision function, is missed in the current research due to the difficulty of downscaling of the prevailing color sensing devices.

Conventional color sensors typically adopt a lateral color sensing channel layout and consume a large amount of physical space, whereas compact designs suffer from an unsatisfactory color detection accuracy. 

In a new study, a team from Georgia State University created a van der Waals semiconductor-empowered vertical color sensing structure with the emphasis on compact device profile and precise color recognition capability.  

Known as a van der Waals semiconductors empowered vertical color sensor (vdW-Ss), it represent a newly-emerged class of materials, in which individual atomic layers are bonded by weak van der Waals forces. 

In molecular physics, the van der Waals force is a distance-dependent interaction between atoms or molecules.  

The new materials constitute one of the most prominent platforms for discovering new physics and designing next-generation devices.

‘The ultra-thinness, mechanical flexibility, and chemical stability of these new semiconductor materials allow us to stack them in arbitrary orders,’ said Li.

‘So, we are actually introducing a three-dimensional integration strategy in contrast to the current planar micro-electronics layout.’

‘The higher integration density is the main reason why our device architecture can accelerate the downscaling of cameras,’ Li added.

The technology currently is patent pending with Georgia State’s Office of Technology Transfer & Commercialization (OTTC), which says a number of industry partners are likely to be interested in using the technology.

‘This technology has the potential to overcome some of the key drawbacks seen with current sensors, says OTTC’s Director, Cliff Michaels. 

‘As nanotechnology advances and devices become more compact, these smaller, highly sensitive color sensors will be incredibly useful.’

Researchers believe the discovery could even spawn advancements to help the vision-impaired one day.

‘This technology is crucial for the development of biomimetic electronic eyes and also other neuromorphic prosthetic devices,’ says Li. 

‘High-quality color sensing and image recognition function may bring new possibilities of colorful item perception for the visually impaired in the future.’ 

The findings have been published in the journal ACS Nano.

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