The camera and its rig weigh less than a quarter of a gram - about one-tenth the weight of a playing card so the beetle can hardly feel it or spend any amount of energy on carrying it.
The camera sits on a 60 degrees rotating mechanical arm and sends high resolution panoramic shots to a smartphone at 1 to 5 frames per second, using Bluetooth from a distance of up to 120 meters.
Researcher Vikram Iyer told Business Insider it's an important step forward for developing wireless camera technology, because although cameras on smartphones are also small, they are connected to bigger processors and batteries.
One of the team researchers, Vikram Iyer, explained Business Insider the rationale behind it: "Aside from sounding like something from a sci-fi movie, this small wireless vision system is an important step to miniaturizing robots. While cameras in smartphones are much smaller than the ones mounted on the beetles' backs by the researchers, they are not wireless in the same sense as they're hooked up to bigger bits of hardware".
"Vision has also become very important for all kinds of larger robotic systems, think cameras on drones and autonomous cars. When we start talking about really small robots though, about the size of a penny, wireless vision becomes pretty challenging due to power size and weight requirements. Enabling small robots to 'see' though could be useful for all sorts of tasks like exploring pipes and other confined spaces," said Iyer. "Since insects are much better at storing energy, they can walk around for hours unlike man made robots and opens up the potential for using them to gather data in places like smart farms," he said.
The researchers chose beetles over other optional insects since they are friendly and easy to handle and also have the necessary strength to carry the cameras on their back. Specifically, two species were chosen for the experiment - the stinkbeetle (Eleodes nigrina) and the smooth death-feigning beetle (Asbolus laevis).