A glimpse of the future.
Byline: Tony Henderson Reporter email@example.com
ATYNESIDE team which glued glasses on to insects may have paved the way for a simpler method of enabling robots to 'see.' Newcastle University scientists have discovered that praying mantis 3D vision works differently from all previously known forms of biological 3D vision.
3D or stereo vision helps us work out the distances to the things we see. Each of our eyes sees a slightly different view of the world. Our brains merge these two views to create a single image, while using the differences between the two views to work out how far away objects are.
Monkeys, cats, horses, owls and toads also have stereo vision but the only insect known to have the ability is the praying mantis.
The team at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, has been investigating whether praying mantis 3D vision works in the same way that of as humans.
They created special insect 3D glasses which were temporarily glued on with beeswax.
In their insect 3D cinema, they could show the mantis a movie of prey, apparently hovering in front of the mantis. The illusion is so good the mantises try to catch it.
The scientists could now show the mantises not only simple movies of bugs, but the complex dot-patterns used to investigate human 3D vision. This enabled them to compare human and insect 3D vision for the first time.
Humans are good at seeing 3D in still images. People do this by matching up the details of the picture seen in each eye. But mantises only attack moving prey so their 3D doesn't need to work in still images.
The team found mantises don't bother about the details of the picture but just look for places where the picture is changing.
This makes mantis 3D vision very robust.
"This is a completely new form of 3D vision," said behavioural ecologist Dr Vivek Nityananda at Newcastle University.
"In mantises it is probably designed to answer the question 'is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?'" As part of the wider research, a Newcastle University engineering student developed an electronic mantis arm which mimics the distinct striking action of the insect. Fellow team-member from the School of Engineering, Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, said: "Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo. Since insect brains are so tiny, their form of stereo vision can't require much computer processing. This means it could find useful applications in low-power autonomous robots."
Three years ago we reported on the early stages of the Newcastle study into praying mantis 3D vision.
Dr Nityananda said then: "So much is still waiting to be discovered. If we find that the way mantises process 3D vision is very different to the way humans do it, then that could open up all kinds of possibilities for programming 3D vision into robots."
Since insect brains are so tiny, their form of stereo vision can't require much computer processing. Dr Ghaith Tarawneh
Newcastle University's Dr. Vivek Nitanyanda Mike Urwin
Mantis modelling miniature 3D glasses