What is the best animal eye? Engineers at the University of Illinois have been researching that question. They have now built the world’s best camera by copying that animal. Their new camera could help military drones see camouflaged or shadowed targets. Their discovery also will allow surgeons to perform many kinds of operations more accurately. They have learned all this from the animal which possesses the best eye known to science. The best animal eye belongs to a small creature known as the mantis shrimp. Here are some of the ways the mantis shrimp’s eyes are superior to all others:
The eye of a mantis shrimp has a dozen different kinds of light receptor cells so they can sense properties of light invisible to other animals. Human eyes have only three types of light receptor cells.
The mantis shrimp eye can sense polarized light which has waves that undulate in one plane. Light reflecting off of a surface is always polarized. This ability allows the mantis shrimp to see objects that would otherwise be invisible because of blending into the background.
A mantis shrimp’s eyes are constructed so that each pixel has a rhabdom which is a rodlike structure made of light receptors. The rhabdoms have threadlike structures called microvilli alternately stacked at right angles. That means the shrimp has cells in the two hemispheres of the eye which are tilted 45 degrees to each other allowing their eyes to detect four polarization directions.
The eye of the mantis shrimp can detect an extensive range of light intensities of light to dark known as the dynamic range. This means that they can see clearly even when there is a very bright area next to a very dark area.
The mantis shrimp is the only animal that can sense a full spectrum of colors and can see the polarization of each color. That means that when there is a complicated background, the animal can still get a clear image.
Electrical and computer engineer Victor Gruev and his research team have already made a camera based on the best animal eye. It has a dynamic range which is about 10,000 times higher than today’s commercial cameras. Gruev and the team are working on a commercial version of their camera. Produced in bulk quantities the improved sensors would cost only $10 each.
There seems to be little doubt that this will be the camera of the future, and science has learned how to make it by studying the best animal eye of one of God’s smallest creatures.
–John N. Clayton © 2019