February 16, 2019

Putting Glasses on Praying Mantis Reveals New Form of 3D Vision

09 February 2018, 07:45 | Dale Webster

Scientists Put 3D Glasses on Praying Mantises To Test Depth Perception

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In a video released alongside the research, Jenny Read, study author and professor of vision science at Newcastle University, in the United Kingdom, first describes how human vision works: each human eye captures a slightly different picture of the world in front of us, creating a three-dimensional whole.

This makes mantis 3D vision very robust.

The glasses were attached to the eyes of the insects by beeswax, with the mantises suspended upside down in front of a computer screen showing 3D footage of prey.

If you want to learn about how praying mantises see the world, one thing you can do is stick teeny tiny 3D glasses on their faces, and this is what researchers at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom have been doing for some years.

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.

Humans, like many other animals, have stereoscopic vision - our two eyes see the world from slightly different perspectives, and our brains instinctively know how to stitch those images together to get a sense of depth.

Praying mantis on circuit board wearing coloured
Scientists glued the makeshift glasses on the insects with beeswax

Like humans, praying mantises have 3D or stereo vision - it's what helps us work out how far away things are.

The researchers put the mantises into an "insect 3D cinema", treating them to a movie of some prey buzzing around.

If you think only human beings watch 3D movies, you're wrong. Instead of looking at the details of the vision, the mantis merely keeps track of its movements while hunting. The illusion is so good the mantises try to catch it. The insect can not see a still image in 3D; its stereo vision works only with moving objects. 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. We found mantises don't bother about the details of the picture, but just look for places where the picture is changing.

"Many robots use stereo vision to help them navigate, but this is usually based on complex human stereo", said Dr Ghaith Tarawneh, of Newcastle's engineering department.

"In mantises it is probably created to answer the question 'is there prey at the right distance for me to catch?" Researcher Jenny Read believes that this form of 3D vision can be used in robots with a lot less computing power than is now required. The mantis is the only insect known to have stereo vision, but given its tiny brain, scientists have long suspected it must involve a simpler process.

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