We have designed and built a simple optical sensor called Vibrating Optical Device for the Kontrol of Autonomous robots (VODKA), that was inspired by the “tremor” eye movements observed in many vertebrate and invertebrate animals. In the initial version presented here, the sensor relies on the repetitive micro-translation of a pair of photoreceptors set behind a small lens, and on the processing designed to locate a target from the two photoreceptor signals. The VODKA sensor, in which retinal micro-scanning movements are performed via a small piezo-bender actuator driven at a frequency of 40 Hz, was found to be able to locate a contrasting edge with an outstandingly high resolution 900-fold greater than its static resolution (which is constrained by the interreceptor angle), regardless of the scanning law imposed on the retina. Hyperacuity is thus obtained at a very low cost, thus opening new vistas for the accurate visuo-motor control of robotic platforms. As an example, the sensor was mounted onto a miniature aerial robot that became able to track a moving target accurately by exploiting the robot's uncontrolled random vibrations as the source of its ocular microscanning movement. The simplicity, small size, low mass and low power consumption of this optical sensor make it highly suitable for many applications in the fields of metrology, astronomy, robotics, automotive, and aerospace engineering. The basic operating principle may also shed new light on the whys and wherefores of the tremor eye movements occurring in both animals and humans.
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