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The robot that learned from a mantis

At the Technion, they propose to build an operating environment for the movement of industrial robots based on the structure of the eye of a mantis

Unbelievable - but apparently primitive vision systems of insects, for example a grasshopper or a mantis - are the basis of a new and very original research, which is now being conducted at the Technion in Haifa. His goal: building a robot with computer vision that can move with great efficiency and orientate in space.

The project is led by Prof. Alfred Brookstein from the Faculty of Computer Science. His robot will have multi-directional cameras. In the experiments, they placed on laboratory walls, objects that are built like the eyes of a praying mantis - or the pictures that remind of works by the artist Yaakov Agam.

The praying mantis, a predatory insect known as "the gardener's friend", has unique eyes in many respects. To the observer, it seems that they are following him. In the eye you see a kind of pupil, rolling in every direction - and you can notice it from any angle you look from.

But Prof. Brockstein says that the pupil is nothing but an optical illusion - resulting from the special structure of the eye.

The eye of a mantis actually consists of many pupils. Their shape is like elongated canals facing all directions. Just like in a painting of a lake. Through each canal, one can see only one specific area in space - and only the combination between the canals allows the praying mantis to orient itself in the environment in which it lives. He is helped by his eyes to collect the visual information - thus positioning himself precisely in space.

Prof. Brockstein's project was done in collaboration with Dr. Thomas Huang from the University of Illinois in the USA and Ron Netberli from Bell Laboratories. A report on this appeared in the most important journal in the world for computer vision (International Journal of Computer Vision), which devoted a special issue to the research being done at the Technion.

In the research, it is specifically proposed to learn from the unique vision system of insects, how to build three-dimensional objects that can be placed in the environment, to alleviate problems of orientation, in movement in space. The shape of the objects and their structure can therefore help robots, working in a laboratory or a production hall.
The robot will be equipped with a multi-directional (or omni-directional) camera. On the walls of the hall - the space where it will operate - objects will be placed that will be constructed like the eyes of a mantis (or paintings of a lake. You will add surfaces, vertical and horizontal stripes, as in the picture here). The robot will receive the information, through the camera, from the objects hanging on the walls - thus determining its position and "counting" its steps.

Another study in computer vision at the Technion that caught the attention of the prestigious journal, is by an interdisciplinary team - Prof. Michael Lindenbaum (Computer Science), Dr. Ilan Shimshoni (Industrial Engineering and Management) and Dr. Yael Mozes (Computer Science, Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center) - which deals with the three-dimensional reconstruction of symmetrical objects. The team suggests combining geometric information with photometric information. And the result: the ability to reconstruct a structure (a single item) from an overall picture.

Among the applications of the idea: the ability to recognize faces and facial expressions for the purpose of transmitting three-dimensional images - for example, together with a telephone conversation in which the interlocutors see each other.

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