June 13, 2019

Going beyond what the eye can see

Forget about Kodak, Nikon, Fuji, Canon and any other major lens companies. Nature is still the best vision manufacturer in the world. Regardless of the size or the angular degree of concavity, the light-capturing instrument we call the eye is both adaptive and one of the most complex biological systems functioning in our visually stimulating environment.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) vision?

From mollusks living in the depths of the sea to birds of prey soaring high above us, nature’s eyes, offer the widest and wildest variety of lenses. While our imaginations may have us contemplating superhuman abilities, actual beings exist that roam this planet with vision capable of putting the most sophisticated camera lenses to shame.

The peacock mantis shrimp (odontodactylus scyllarus) has the most complex ocular structures in the animal kingdom, comprising millions of light-sensitive cells. Boasting 16 colour-receptive cones (compared to humans, who have just three), this crustacean can perceive ten times more colour than a person, including the ultraviolet spectrum.

Soaring above the clouds, eagles’ eyes are known for their exceptional long-distance vision. They can see clearly about 8 times farther humans can, and are able to spot prey at a 2-mile range. Their eyes’ photoreceptors, just like those of the peacock mantis shrimp, allow eagles to see in UV light. However, their biggest limitation is night vision.

Keeping up with nature

Owls may not soar as high as eagles, but their binocular, nocturnal vision is more sophisticated than any low-light photosensitive lens. Their eyes have a reflective surface behind their retina through a thin layer that allows for the collection of surrounding light at twice the amount of other bird species. Because they have more rods than humans do, they have greater light sensitivity.

Since the human ocular anatomy limits us in comparison to other species, we have devised camera-like lenses and instrumentation to help us detect and perceive beyond our range of visible light. Machine vision (MV) systems, for instance, help us with industrial applications we have created to better manipulate the products we use and consume.

So what is machine vision and why should we care about it?

MV was engineered as part of a larger solution that extends beyond our limited abilities to see, perceive and detect imperfections in our manufacturing and industrial automation processes. A machine vision system may include cameras, lenses, lighting devises, computers and software (for both image analysis and processing), databases (for matching patterns/algorithms for comparisons), and output components (such as a screen or signal dial) that present the data obtained from the configuration of the system.

As artificial intelligence (AI) advances and becomes widely adopted by businesses worldwide, a demand for sophisticated equipment manufacturing, advanced-level programming and applied engineering will enhance our abilities to see the once-invisible features of our industries. This can help us improve existing processes while reducing unnecessary waste and production time.

Extending our vision

Just as our crustacean and bird friends naturally navigate through their world using their visual systems to survive, our artificial world of virtual augmented reality, robotics and precision-measuring devices such as lasers and ultraviolet lighting continue to extend our proverbial vision into a not-so-unforeseeable future of technological achievements.


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