Inspired by the eyes of various animals, Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Hongrui Jiang (right) and his collaborators are creating innovative optical technologies for surgical tools, surveillance and electronic devices. “Instead of just duplicating natural designs, we want to understand what features are beneficial in what way and combine those benefits to create something with even more functionality,” he says.
For example, current endoscopes have a fixed lens at the tip, giving the tool a limited range of vision. When a doctor performs a colonoscopy, the fixed lens makes it difficult to detect potentially cancerous polyps in the folds of the colon. Jiang and his team have developed a dome structure covered in lenses that resembles a dragonfly eye. Unlike the insect, each lens on Jiang’s dome is tunable, potentially giving the device more than 270 degrees of focused vision. This could reduce the rate of missed polyps and the overall time of the procedure.
Jiang and collaborators from the UW-Madison surgical department have received funding from the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery for the research. In addition to traditional endoscopes, the team is working to optimize laparoscopy tools and capsule endoscopes with tunable lenses. “We can have prototypes of these surgical tools in about five years,” he says.
Jiang also has received an Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grant from the National Science Foundation to create intelligent micro-optical imaging systems. With collaborators from UW-Madison, University of California, Davis, and University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, Jiang is creating a ball covered with small cameras, called multi-microcamera arrays. Partly inspired by eagle eyes, each of the small cameras can focus as needed, creating a device with multiple foveae (focus points) and 360 degrees of vision.
Additionally, this team is studying reflecting superposition compound eyes, like those of a lobster, to build three-dimensional, microscale mirror-box structures on Jiang’s optical domes. The mirrors will increase image resolution and light intensity.