Scientists develop robotic camera system to track insects flying in real time

For now, the only way to get a steady video of an insect’s flight is to tie the insect to its place — which some would say is not a real “flying” at all. But now, French scientists have developed a camera platform that can move with insects in the air. The robotic system was developed in collaboration with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of Lorraine and the French National Institute of Agriculture (INRA).

Scientists develop robotic camera system to track insects flying in real time

It’s called the “Lab on the Cable” and combines a small cube-shaped frame with two miniature PixyCam cameras and a high-speed camera. The device is suspended in mid-air in a closed area via a series of cables. As the target insect flies in the air, PixyCams stereoscopically tracks its position in three-dimensional space. Using this data, the system reacts immediately, selectively twisting or wringing the cube’s cable to keep it in a relative position to the insect. As a result, its high-speed cameras can obtain a stable lens of insects, where the animal remains in the center of the picture.

Scientists develop robotic camera system to track insects flying in real time

This is actually the same as a small version of skycam system for film production and sports reporting, in which a cable-suspended camera moves overhead above its moving object.

So far, “labs on cables” have been successfully used to track and photograph free-flying Agrotisipsilon moths, which move at a speed of 3 meters (9.8 feet) per second. The researchers hope to use this technology in the future to better understand the targeted strategies of insects such as fruit flies or mosquitoes.

The paper on the study was published this week in the journal Science Robotics.