Have you ever looked into an animal's eyes and thought, 'I wonder how they see the world?' We do it all the time. We wonder, for example, what our cat sees as she stalks through the woods and how the colorful world turns into a colorblind dog. And when a cockroach scurries across the kitchen counter at night, we wonder if it can sense the disgust in our hazy gaze.
We know we're not the only ones that think these things. Viktor Gruev, an electrical and computer engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shares our intrigue – albeit, from a more technical standpoint.
Gruev and his colleagues recently developed a prototype inspired by the mantis shrimp, which have one of the most complex visual systems in the animal kingdom. By mimicking the marine crustacean's vision, the researchers were able to make significant improvements on today's commercial cameras and may help mitigate accidents by letting self-driving vehicles see more clearly.
"We have demonstrated a new model of prototype inspired by the visual system of the mantis shrimp, which has enabled us to capture polarization information under high dynamic range, "Gruev told Digital Trends. "This is important because polarization of light is a fundamental property of light that we [as humans] are blind to. It provides key information about the imaged environment, as well as material properties of the objects and their geometric shape. It is therefore useful to capture this information when driving through hazy or foggy conditions. "
As for dynamic range, this is a measurement of the brightest and darkest regions that a camera can capture in a given instant. Imagine driving through a dark tunnel and exiting into a bright and sunny day. For a few seconds, that sunlight is practically blinding.
Inspired by recent self-driving car crashes, Gruev has decided to address the problem of pedestrian detection through biomimicry.
"There are two innovations in this work," Gruev said. "The pixel and nanomaterials that we use for polarization sensing. The pixel is novel because it is a regular camera, which enables a logarithmic response to the light intensity. 60 dB, which is typical for regular cameras, to around 1
Gruev envisions his car being used to support self-driving cars and underwater GPS. He said they're currently working with car manufacturers to commercialize the technology.
A paper detailing the research recently published in the journal Optica.