Fly eyes for spying cameras

Even with our sophisticated cameras, we can sometimes get poor pictures. This usually happens because cameras use an average light setting to control brightness. By mimicking how flies see, Australian researchers can now produce digital videos in which you can see every detail and use it to develop better video cameras and surveillance equipment. Read more...

Even with our sophisticated cameras, we can sometimes get poor pictures. This usually happens because cameras use an average light setting to control brightness. When parts of a scene are much brighter than others, the result is that you don't catch accurately all the parts. According to National Geographic News, by mimicking how flies see, Australian researchers can now produce digital videos in which you can see every detail. This technique could be used to develop better video cameras, military target-detection systems and surveillance equipment. But read more...

Here are some excerpts from the National Geographic News article.

Flies can spot movement in shadows and see moving objects against interference-filled backgrounds. Such abilities could have military applications.
And camera makers covet the insect's skill at piecing together a complete image when there are large variations in the level of light. Traditional cameras clumsily rely on single levels of brightness for their images, leading to overexposed photos.

The images below describe how our eyes and traditional cameras see a particular scene (Credit: University of Adelaide). Traditional cameras see either the dark parts (top left) or the light parts of an image (top right). Eyes see both at the same time (bottom left) and keep only the most important bits (bottom right). Here is a link to a larger version.

How cameras and our eyes see

So Russell Brinkworth, who's working in the Physiology department at the University of Adelaide on Insect Vision Research has developed "software that sees the same way a fly does."

He gives more details in "Video cameras learn from insect eyes," a University of Adelaide news release dated August 28, 2006, from which the above image has been extracted.

"In nature, the individual cells of the eye adjust to a part of the image independently in order to capture the maximum amount of information about the scene. This means that even in difficult lighting conditions, such as a person standing in front of a window, you can see both the person's face and the scenery outside at the same time, something a traditional camera cannot do."
By recording from cells in the brains of insects, Dr Brinkworth and his colleagues have shown it is possible to determine exactly how animal eyes work, and to reproduce the process using computer software and hardware.

Right now, the software can already enhance existing video footage. And Brinkworth plans "to shrink the prototype and place it on a microchip that could go between a camera's sensor and its digital converter." But even if this project was supported by the U.S. Air Force, the researcher has to find a commercial partner.

Before such video cameras become available, you can read the following articles if you're interested in this technology.

Sources: Kelly Hearn, for National Geographic News, September 7, 2006; and various web sites

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