Geoffrey Barrows, 32
Gives unmanned reconnaissance planes insect vision
If you followed the recent wars in Afganistan and Iraq, you’ve likely heard of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the U.S. Army’s Predator. These craft allow hostile-area reconnaissance with no risk to pilots, who use Global Positioning System-based navigation to guide them remotely. Precision guidance, though, can be difficult from afar. Enter Geoffrey Barrows, founder and president of Centeye, a three-year-old Washington, DC, company that develops “bio-inspired” microelectronics. Centeye is commercializing optic-flow sensors, chips designed to help unmanned aerial vehicles navigate autonomously by endowing them with the kind of depth perception exhibited by flying insects. The chips, which Barrows developed between 1997 and 2000 while working for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, compare objects’ rate of movement through the visual field to deduce their relative distance. With contracts from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Naval Research Lab, Barrows is working to reduce the sensors’ weight to just a few grams; he aims to deploy them in small, fast-moving robot planes within three years.