Dragonflies May Help Improve Robotic Vision Systems
August 16, 2013

Dragonfly Brains May Inspire Future Robotic Vision Systems

[ Watch the Video: Dragonflies Hunt Food Like Humans ]

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

What do a dragonfly and a robot have in common? Nothing yet, but researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered a novel and complex visual circuit in a dragonfly’s brain that might someday help to improve vision systems for robots.

The underlying processes of insect vision have been the research subject for Dr Steven Wiederman and Associate Professor David O'Carroll from the University's Centre for Neuroscience Research (ACNR). Wiederman and O’Carroll have been applying their findings to robotics and artificial vision systems.

Published in The Journal of Neuroscience, their latest findings reveal that the brains of dragonflies combine opposite pathways - both an ON and OFF switch - when processing information about simple dark objects.

"To perceive the edges of objects and changes in light or darkness, the brains of many animals, including insects, frogs, and even humans, use two independent pathways, known as ON and OFF channels," says Wiederman.

"Most animals will use a combination of ON switches with other ON switches in the brain, or OFF and OFF, depending on the circumstances. But what we show occurring in the dragonfly's brain is the combination of both OFF and ON switches. This happens in response to simple dark objects, likely to represent potential prey to this aerial predator.

"Although we've found this new visual circuit in the dragonfly, it's possible that many other animals could also have this circuit for perceiving various objects," Dr Wiederman notes.

Wiederman and O’Carroll were able to record their result directly from “target-selective” neurons in the dragonflies’ brains. The insects were presented with moving lights that changed in intensity, as well as both light and dark targets.

"We discovered that the responses to the dark targets were much greater than we expected, and that the dragonfly's ability to respond to a dark moving target is from the correlation of opposite contrast pathways: OFF with ON," Dr Wiederman says.

"The exact mechanisms that occur in the brain for this to happen are of great interest in visual neurosciences generally, as well as for solving engineering applications in target detection and tracking. Understanding how visual systems work can have a range of outcomes, such as in the development of neural prosthetics and improvements in robot vision.

"A project is now underway at the University of Adelaide to translate much of the research we've conducted into a robot, to see if it can emulate the dragonfly's vision and movement. This project is well underway and once complete, watching our autonomous dragonfly robot will be very exciting," he says.

The ACNR is a multidisciplinary research facility that incorporates staff from The University of Adelaide, The Royal Adelaide Hospital and SA Pathology. ACNR is designed to facilitate world-class neuroscience research aimed at discovering and developing therapies, and translating results into the treatment and prevention of neurological diseases. The major research fields explored at ACNR include neurological development and disease, aquaporin channel physiology and drug discovery, brain and spinal cord injury and repair, and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience.