Science

Specs: the critters wearing 3D glasses!

Specs: the critters wearing 3D glasses!

Researchers have discovered the novel way that praying mantises' 3D vision works.

But the only known insect to also possess this ability is the praying mantis, a tiny critter whose brain has only a million or so neurons - compared with the roughly 100 billion neurons in a human brain.

Researchers using miniature 3D glasses have discovered how the praying mantis' unique vision allows them to spot objects in three dimensions even when humans can not.

The mantis stereo vision is very robust because even if the insect's two eyes produced completely different images, they would still be able to identify the places where things are changing. The mantis could not only see the prey, it also tried to catch it.

According to the team at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, their findings on the insects' unique form of "stereo" sight, in which two views are merged to create a single image, could lead to important advances in robotics. "This means it could find useful applications in low-power autonomous robots".

It is possible that 3D vision in mantises is closer to that of vertebrates, where disparities between the positions of an object's image in the two eyes can be detected and used to reveal the object's position, even when the object is camouflaged and is invisible in either eye individually. The movies shown to the insects were both simple movies of bugs as well as complex dot-patterns typically used by doctors to investigate human 3D vision.

But humans are not the only animals that have stereo vision.

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When hunting, a praying mantis remains motionless and strikes out at movement when its prey is in range. In that respect, the bugs appeared to approach 3D image processing in much the same way humans do. This is something humans can't always do.

The researchers uncovered that while humans are fairly good at seeing in 3D in still images, mantises don't really need 3D vision to work in still images, since they attack only moving prey. Detection of change would be much easier to implement [in robotics], versus the more elaborate details in matching the views of two eyes. When studying their vision, researchers discovered a new type of 3D vision in praying mantis.

"This is a completely new form of 3D vision as it is based on change over time instead of static images", Nityananda said.

Researchers surmise that this is perhaps because the mantises only use their 3D vision to hunt for prey.

"In mantises it is probably created to answer the question 'is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?" said Dr. Vivek Nityananda from Newcastle University, coauthor of the study.

'Current machine stereo algorithms require a lot of computing power, ' she said. Today, robots that use stereo vision to navigate their surroundings do so analogously to humans.


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