WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- American researchers developed a new type of camera that could significantly improve the ability of cars to spot hazards in challenging imaging conditions, inspired by the visual system of the mantis shrimp.
The study published on Thursday in the journal Optica described the new camera that could detect a property of light known as polarization and feature a dynamic range about 10,000 times higher than today's commercial cameras.
Dynamic range is a measure of the brightest and darkest areas a camera can capture simultaneously. With better dynamic range, the camera can see better in driving conditions such as the transition from a dark tunnel into bright sunlight or during hazy or foggy conditions.
"In a recent crash involving a self-driving car, the car failed to detect a semi-truck because its color and light intensity blended with that of the sky in the background," said research team leader Viktor Gruev from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Our camera can solve this problem because its high dynamic range makes it easier to detect objects that are similar to the background and the polarization of a truck is different than that of the sky," said Gruev.
Mantis shrimp is highly sensitive to a high range of light intensities, able to perceive very dark and very bright elements within a single scene.
The researchers mimicked the way that the mantis shrimp integrates polarized light detection into its photoreceptors by depositing nano-materials directly onto the surface of the imaging chip.
The image chip contained the forward biased photodiodes instead of the traditional reverse bias mode, changing the electrical current output from being linearly proportional to the light input to having a logarithmic response like the shrimp, according to the study.
In addition to automotive applications, the researchers are exploring using the cameras to detect cancerous cells, which exhibit a different light polarization than normal tissue, and to improve ocean exploration.
The device could be mass-produced as little as 10 U.S dollars apiece, according to the researchers.