Tiny 3D Glasses On Mantis Reveal New Form of Stereo Vision

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Scientists at Newcastle University made the specs because they wanted to find about more about the way these insects - praying mantises - see. Where mammals such as humans see in 3D based on the amount of light that reaches each of their separate eyes, mantises instead watch for movement, tracking motion in order to determine how far away something is. While bees and ants and flies are all able to see a wide angle on the world thanks to their compound eyes, they're unable to see in 3D, which means that they have no depth perception.

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 process is known as stereo vision, or stereopsis. Besides humans, there are many other animals which use stereo vision, such as cats, mules, toads, and the praying mantis. When studying their vision, researchers discovered a new type of 3D vision in praying mantis. The researchers discovered that the praying mantis successfully identified the prey in the movies. The illusion is so good the mantises try to catch it. The first movie displayed video clips of a moving prey, while the second movie included static patterns of dots and a moving spiral of dots. This actually allows them to see some 3D videos that don't make sense to the human eye.

Humans can recognise 3-D perspective easily in still images. One lens was green and the other was blue, a setup that allowed the scientists to control what each eye could see. The team found mantises don't bother about the details of the picture but just look for places where the picture is changing.

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.

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According to their findings, mantises arrive at their 3D perception by processing visual information differently than people do, an unusual technique that allows mantises to see some objects in 3D even when humans can not.

"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.

A Newcastle University engineering student developed an electronic mantis arm which mimics the distinct striking action of the insect.

Because insects have such tiny brains, this information could help figure out how to develop computer vision that requires relatively little computing power, the researchers said. This means you can have autonomous robots that are far smaller and last much longer on a battery than ever before.