Aussie scientists research the unique light processing of Bees to make better cameras

Researchers at RMIT have been turning to nature to improve camera technology. Here’s a quick science lesson, bees have 5 eyes, nope I didn’t know that either, and they...

Researchers at RMIT have been turning to nature to improve camera technology. Here’s a quick science lesson, bees have 5 eyes, nope I didn’t know that either, and they use those eyes to filter light and understand the world their interacting with, very differently than any other animal.

The new research into the way that honeybees see colour could pave the way for more accurate cameras in phones, drones and robots. Identifying colour in complex outdoor environments is extremely difficult as the light is continuously changing. Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, looked to see how honeybees solve this problem and discovered a totally new mechanism for processing colour information.

The results of the work by academics at RMIT University, Monash University, University of Melbourne and Deakin University were published today in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The Associate Professor at RMIT, Adrian Dyer, has been working with Professor Marcello Rosa at Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function to solve this classic problem of how colour vision works.

“For a digital system like a camera or a robot the colour of objects often changes. Currently this problem is dealt with by assuming the world is, on average, grey.

This means it’s difficult to identify the true colour of ripe fruit or mineral rich sands, limiting outdoor colour imaging solutions by drones, for example.”

Bees have three extra eyes (ocelli) on the top of their head that look directly at the sky, and lead author Dr Jair Garcia (RMIT) and a multidisciplinary team discovered that the ocelli contain two colour receptors that are perfectly tuned for sensing the colour of ambient light. Bees also have two main compound eyes that directly sense flower colours from the environment.

The physics suggests the sensing of the colour of light could allow a brain to discount the naturally coloured illumination which would otherwise confuse colour perception. However, for this to be true, the information from the ocelli would have to be integrated with colours seen by the compound eyes.

To confirm if this theory is correct, they needed to test it, so Dr Yu-Shan Hung from the University of Melbourne, mapped the neural tracings from ocelli and showed neural projection did indeed feed to the key colour processing areas of the bee brain. The system closely predicts previously observed behaviour of bees foraging in complex environments and provides a new solution for illuminations as diverse as natural forest light, sunlight, or shade.

Dyer said,

“We’re using bio-inspired solutions from nature to tackle key problems in visual perception. This discovery on colour constancy can be implemented into imaging systems to enable accurate colour interpretation.”



Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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