In brief: It's well known that mantis shrimp have pretty advanced eyesight. The sea-faring crustaceans are able to distinguish colors and objects in even the darkest or brightest environments. Now, researchers have decided to use the lessons they've learned from studying these creatures to improve the cameras of self-driving vehicles.
Self-driving car technology is advancing rapidly, but it's not perfect. Recent accidents involving Tesla and Uber vehicles are evidence enough of that, even if human error played a role.
Given this reality, researchers are continually looking for ways to improve the quality of self-driving vehicle sensors and cameras. So far, this research has borne fruit: some autonomous car tech is so advanced that it can detect and act upon the smallest hand motions of pedestrians, and detect them before they even round a corner.
Now, researchers from the University of Illinois want to push the self-driving car industry a little bit closer to perfection - but they're doing so in a highly unorthodox manner. As reported by New Atlas last Friday, the research team in question has been studying the mantis shrimp to determine whether or not its "extreme sensitivity" to light and darkness can be emulated within autonomous cars.
If you've never heard of mantis shrimp before, this hilarious primer from webcomic creator The Oatmeal will probably help you out. In short, mantis shrimp are extremely dangerous (to other sea-faring creatures), brightly-colored creatures with the ability to see a wide range of colors, no matter how bright their environment might be.
According to researchers, a recent self-driving car crash occurred because the car in question didn't see a nearby semi-truck because "its color and light intensity blended with that of the sky in the background."
Now, the research team has developed a camera that could solve that problem in the future. Specifically, they've increased the dynamic range of their camera significantly, to better emulate a mantis shrimp's light detection capabilities. With a little luck, this new camera should be able to help self-driving cars better distinguish between objects and their environment, no matter the intensity of outside lighting.
The specifics are highly technical, but if you want to take a stab at understanding them, you can read the full research paper for yourself right here.