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Praying mantises fitted with tiny 3D glasses all in the name of science

Researchers hope to understand how human vision evolved and develop new ways of adding 3D technology to computers and robots

Tomas Jivanda
Friday 02 May 2014 17:00 BST

The praying mantis is the only invertebrate known to have the ability to see in three dimensions. So, in the name of science, researchers decided to look into the elegant insect’s sight a bit further - by fitting test subjects with tiny 3D glasses.

The team from Newcastle University aims to understand how the bug’s vision compares to that of humans in the hope of finding clues about how our 3D vision evolved.

The analysis may also help lead to the development of novel approaches in implementing 3D recognition and depth perception in computer vision and robotics, the team said. Making the mantis look like an absolute dude was a [welcome] consequence.

Dr Jenny Read, from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University who is heading up the research 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.”

The study has been funded by a £1 million research grant in order to “characterise the mechanisms of 3D vision in mantises and how these mechanisms can be applied in science and industry”.

Dr Vivek Nityananda who is part of the team carrying out the research said: “So much is still waiting to be discovered in this system. 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 to create much simpler algorithms for programming 3D vision into robots."

A key component of the research is presenting the mantis with virtual 3D stimuli, such as moving targets which the insects view through world’s tinniest 3D glasses attached by beeswax.

Dr Nityananda explained: “We can do this by fooling them into misjudging depth, in the same way that our brains are fooled when we watch a 3D movie.”

The experiment will determine if mantis can see the moving object standing out in depth in a similar way to humans and monkeys, the team said.

This is the first major research project investigating the praying mantises' site since the Samuel Rossel’s 1983 discovery that the insects have 3D vision.

Mr Rossel came to the conclusion after placing prisms over the mantises’ eyes and creating an optical illusion that an object was within their range, prompting them to strike at it.

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