TC Makers: Centeye Creates Insect-Like Flying Robots In A DC Basement

When we first wandered up to the suburban split-level that houses Centeye Inc., we were a bit confused. Could this be the place where a mad roboticist was building tiny robots with insect eyes and brains that could interact with their environment? We rang the doorbell and weren’t disappointed.

Founded by Geoffrey Barrows, Centeye is dedicated to computer vision. They make little electronic eyes that are cheap to reproduce and “see” only a few thousand pixels. He has a staff of two engineers who work with him on designing and building chips and has just released the open source Arudeye board, a tiny Arduino board with camera built-in.

Barrows does everything from his basement. Recent advances in fabrication allow him and his staff to design chips on a computer at home and then send the plans to manufacturers in the U.S. They can then mass produce their eyes, driving down the cost per unit to a few dollars. They don’t need a big lab because everything is done remotely.

Their robots are actually proofs-of-concept but they’re really cool. The little helicopters use Centeye eyes to remain stationary in space and other models can avoid objects as they move. Because each eye takes in a small part of the scene, not much computing power is needed to process each bit of input. Like insects, the brain doesn’t have to work very hard to get a lot done.

Centeye has contracts with DARPA but is trying to commercialize their hardware with the Arduino offerings. It’s fascinating to see makers in their own habitat and even more exciting to see them make cool stuff in the oddest of places. Check out the video for more information and you can watch all of our TC Makers episodes here

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