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Bug Eyed: Tiny 3D Glasses Help Confirm 3D Vision in Insects

Miniature glasses have proved that mantises use 3D vision – providing a new model to improve visual perception in robots.

Most knowledge about 3D vision has come from vertebrates, however, a team from Newcastle University, UK publishing today in Scientific Reports, confirm that the praying mantis, an invertebrate, does indeed use stereopsis or 3D perception for hunting.

In a specially-designed insect cinema, they have shown that it needs to be ‘old school’ 3D glasses for tests to work on mantises. While in humans that would be with red and blue lenses, red light is poorly visible to mantises so they have custom-made glasses with one blue and one green lens!

Image shows one cool, 3D glasses wearing mantis.

This is a mantis wearing 3D glasses. Credit: Newcastle University.

Better understanding of 3D vision

3D vision in mantises was originally shown in the 1980s by Samuel Rossel, but his work used prisms and occluders which meant that only a very limited set of images could be shown. The Newcastle University team has developed 3D glasses suitable for insects which means they can show the insects any images they want, opening up new avenues of research.

Study leader, Jenny Read, Professor of Vision Science said: “Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency. We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world.

“Better understanding of their simpler processing systems helps us understand how 3D vision evolved, and could lead to possible new algorithms for 3D depth perception in computers.”

In the experiments, mantises fitted with tiny glasses attached with beeswax were shown short videos of simulated bugs moving around a computer screen. The mantises didn’t try to catch the bugs when they were in 2D. But when the bugs were shown in 3D, apparently floating in front of the screen, the mantises struck out at them. This shows that mantises do indeed use 3D vision.

Old-school 3D glasses

Initial testing of the most widely-used contemporary 3D technology used for humans – using circular polarization to separate the two eyes’ images – didn’t work because the insects were so close to the screen that the glasses failed to separate the two eyes’ images correctly.

Another 3D glasses wearing mantis.

In the experiments, mantises fitted with tiny glasses attached with beeswax were shown short videos of simulated bugs moving around a computer screen. The mantises didn’t try to catch the bugs when they were in 2D. But when the bugs were shown in 3D, apparently floating in front of the screen, the mantises struck out at them. This shows that mantises do indeed use 3D vision. Credit: Newcastle University.

Dr. Vivek Nityananda, sensory biologist at Newcastle University and part of the research team continues: “When this system failed we looked at the old-style 3D glasses with red and blue lenses. Since red light is poorly visible to mantises, we used green and blue glasses and an LED monitor with unusually narrow output in the green and blue wavelength.

“We definitively demonstrated 3D vision or stereopsis in mantises and also showed that this technique can be effectively used to deliver virtual 3D stimuli to insects.”

The Newcastle University team will now continue the research examining the algorithms used for depth perception in insects to better understand how human vision evolved and to develop new ways of adding 3D technology to computers and robots.

About this vision and technology research

Funding: The study was funded by Leverhulme Trust.

Source: Karen Bidewell – Newcastle University
Image Source: The images are credited to Newcastle University
Original Research: Full open access research for “Insect stereopsis demonstrated using a 3D insect cinema” by Vivek Nityananda, Ghaith Tarawneh, Ronny Rosner, Judith Nicolas, Stuart Crichton and Jenny Read in Scientific Reports. Published online January 7 2016 doi:10.1038/srep18718


Abstract

Insect stereopsis demonstrated using a 3D insect cinema

Stereopsis – 3D vision – has become widely used as a model of perception. However, all our knowledge of possible underlying mechanisms comes almost exclusively from vertebrates. While stereopsis has been demonstrated for one invertebrate, the praying mantis, a lack of techniques to probe invertebrate stereopsis has prevented any further progress for three decades. We therefore developed a stereoscopic display system for insects, using miniature 3D glasses to present separate images to each eye, and tested our ability to deliver stereoscopic illusions to praying mantises. We find that while filtering by circular polarization failed due to excessive crosstalk, “anaglyph” filtering by spectral content clearly succeeded in giving the mantis the illusion of 3D depth. We thus definitively demonstrate stereopsis in mantises and also demonstrate that the anaglyph technique can be effectively used to deliver virtual 3D stimuli to insects. This method opens up broad avenues of research into the parallel evolution of stereoscopic computations and possible new algorithms for depth perception.

“Insect stereopsis demonstrated using a 3D insect cinema” by Vivek Nityananda, Ghaith Tarawneh, Ronny Rosner, Judith Nicolas, Stuart Crichton and Jenny Read in Scientific Reports. Published online January 7 2016 doi:10.1038/srep18718

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