How Dragonflies Could Help Develop Human Eyesight and Driverless Cars

"I envision commercial applications within five to 10 years."

We may not be too far away from improving eyesight of people with poor vision.

The source? Dragonflies.

An Australian mechanical engineering team has developed a computer program emulating a dragonfly's eyesight. Published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the researchers also have aspirations to apply this research in artificial sight for robots and driverless cars. The U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research provided the seed funding for the project.  

While the computer program has been in development, the hope is to apply this to humans in bionic eyes using "a retinal implant connected to a video camera to convert images into electrical impulses that will carry signals back to the brain," according to the Wall Street Journal.

A dragonfly's attention to shapes and detail is not very strong compared to humans, however, they can detect fast-moving creatures and have a wide scope of peripheral vision that makes them a feared predator. They have all of this visual power despite having a significantly tiny brain.

The group chose dragonflies over humans because they were concerned of the complexity of the human nucleus. That choice apparently was the right one. The head of the project, Dr. Steven Wiederman, said, "If the field results are as good as simulations predict, then I envision commercial applications within five to 10 years."

Currently the project consists of a large robot vehicle with a sizable computer containing the dragonfly visual system. To bring this discovery to a commercial level for the Average Joe, the Australian researching team will have to shrink the product significantly for implementation. The group holds steadfast optimism that they can create this machine due to "[the] insect-based algorithms are much more efficient than traditional engineering approaches".

Long live dragonflies. They now serve as a catalyst for vision technology.

(H/T: Wall Street Journal)

Cover Image via Joi Ito / Flickr