I am constantly amazed by new discoveries as to the way in which our bodies — and those of other creatures — perform their magic, especially the various ways in which we sense what is going on in the world around us.
Different animals have different senses available to them. Sharks, for example, have electroreceptors that give them the ability to perceive natural electrical stimuli, which they can use to locate their prey. Of course, electroreception is relatively short range; my mother, by comparison, can tell when I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing from thousands of miles away. That's a whole new field of study just waiting to be addressed, but we digress…
In the case of humans, one of the most amazing senses — at least as far as I am concerned — is that of vision. Now, I already knew that several different types of eye design had come into being, such as our eyes versus the eyes in houseflies, for example. What I only just learned was that vision conveys such tremendous survival advantages that around 50 different types of eyes (visual receptors) have evolved independently over time.
And where did I discover this little gem of information? Well, I'm glad you asked. In fact, it was in the Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume 102, Number 10, October 2014. This special issue is titled Bioinspired Imaging: Discovery, Emulation, and Future Prospects .
This guest issue was edited by Dr. Jan Van der Spiegel, IEEE Fellow and Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering and the director of the Center for Sensor Technologies at the University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia; Ralph Etienne-Cummings, IEEE Fellow and Professor and Chairman of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the John Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, Maryland; and Willard Larkin, Emeritus Advisor to the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
The whole thrust of this issue revolves around the way in which the biological world has crafted remarkable solutions to an incredible range of visual sensing and imaging problems; also, the ways in which scientists and engineers can take advantage of existing biological solutions to derive their bioinspired technological counterparts. The contents list for this issue reads as follows:
- The Remarkable Visual Abilities of Nocturnal Insects: Neural Principles and Bioinspired Night-Vision Algorithms
- Animal Polarization Imaging and Implications for Optical Processing
- Bioinspired Focal-Plane Polarization Imaging Sensor Design: From Application to Implementation
- Bioinspired Polarization Imaging Sensors: From Circuits and Optics to Signal Processing Algorithms and Biomedical Applications
- Retinomorphic Event-Based Vision Sensors: Bopinspired Cameras with Spiking Output
- Asynchronous Neuromorphic Event-Driven Image Filtering
- Reconstructing Natural Visual Scenes From Spike Times
- Bioinspired Visual Motion Estimation
- Contour Motion Estimation for Asynchronous Event-Driven Cameras
- Implementation of Visual Motion Detection in Analog “Neuromorphic” Circuitry — A Case Study of the Issue of Circuit Precision
- Perceivable Light Fields: Matching the Requirements Between the Human Visual System and Autostereoscopic 3D Displays
- Detecting 3D Mitrror Symmetry in a 2D Camera Image for 3D Shape Recovery
- Noise-Enhanced Information Systems
I learned so much from this issue that I couldn't begin to relate it all. As I pen this article, I'm just re-reading the abstract to the first article, which starts as follows:
Despite their tiny eyes and brains, nocturnal insects have remarkable visual abilities. Recent work — particularly on fast-flying moths and bees and on ball-rolling dung beetles — has shown that nocturnal insects are able to distinguish colors, to detect faint movements, to learn visual landmarks, to orient to the faint pattern of polarized light produced by the moon, and to navigate using the stars. These impressive visual abilities are the result of exquisitely adapted eyes and visual systems, the product if millions of years of evolution…
The article goes on to describe how these insects use the neural summation of photons in space and time to isolate tiny details out of a noisy background signal. And, talking about noise, the last article discusses how stochastic facilitation (the addition of noise) can be used to tease out weak, sub-threshold stimuli.
Several articles concerned themselves with how biological visual systems tend to only pre-process, transmit, and post-process changing (event-driven) data, unlike our technology-based vision systems that typically transmit entire frames over and over again, even when nothing is changing in the image. The idea here is that event-driven bio-inspired vision systems have the potential to outperform conventional, frame-based systems in many application areas.
I tell you, all of this has really set my mind racing. In fact, there was so much information in this special issue that I'm going to have to go back and read it all again!
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