A bug sized robot is not that useful unless you can fit a camera on it, and creating an efficient camera that small is not easy. However, robotics from the University of Washington, Seattle, have figured out a way to do so.

Scientists at the University of Washington have managed to create the world’s smallest, wireless, steerable action video camera that is small enough to fit on a microbot or even a live bug.

The research team lead by Shyam Gollakota, professor of computer science and engineering, nearly had to start from scratch. This is because current generation cameras are highly dependant by power availability. Even the smallest swallowable pill camera requires a 1 gram battery that can power it for an hour and a half.

The team used an off the shelf ultra-low-power image sensor that is only 2.3 mm wide and weighs just 6.7 mg. This was combined with a minuscule Bluetooth 5.0 chip (3 mm wide, 6.8 mg), a 20mg lens, and an antenna with a 5mm wire. An accelerometer proved to be useful so that the camera does not capture pointless images if the robot or bug is not moving.

Finally, a mechanically steerable “head” was added to the tiny machine that brought up the total weight of the camera to 84mg.

UW bristlebot with microcamera

The camera can stream video (160×120 pixels, monochrome) at 5 frames per second to a smartphone up to 120 meters away while the 10 mAh battery can keep it going for 6 hours. It can work in low light conditions and since it is steerable, it can capture panoramas as well. This was successfully tested on a pair of darkling beetles and different types of mini-robots.

However, this is only the beginning as researchers say that the camera can be scaled down even further and the battery can be replaced with a solar cell to cut down power requirements.

We recommend watching the video included above to see the camera in action.