Although us humans take 3D vision for granted, it's not a standard feature throughout the animal kingdom. In fact, praying mantises are the only invertebrates known to possess it – a fact which makes them excellent hunters. Scientists at Britain's Newcastle University are now studying the insects' ability to see in 3D, to determine if it could be copied in human technologies such as robot vision systems. As part of that study, they're equipping mantises with the smallest pairs of 3D glasses ever made.
The eyewear is temporarily fixed in front of the animals' compound eyes, using beeswax as an adhesive. The mantises are then held in place in front of a computer screen, on which moving three-dimensional visual targets are presented. By studying the insects' reactions to that stimuli, the scientists are hoping to find out if they process 3D imagery in the same way that we do, or if some other mechanism is at work.
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"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," said Newcastle's Dr. Vivek Nityananda.
Of course, it could turn out that their 3D vision is similar to our own, wherein depth perception is made possible by comparing the disparities between an object's position as seen through the left and right eyes. Even if that is the case, the study could still provide valuable information on the evolution of 3D vision, which could in turn still be applied to the development of human technology.
The research is being led by Dr. Jenny Read. Dr. Nityananda provides more information on the study, in the video below.