Gruev receives grant to study, recreate mantis shrimp vision

Mantis shrimp, aggressive, predatory sea crustaceans, have among the most sophisticated vision of all animals. A group of researchers, including Viktor Gruev, PhD, want to recreate that vision to make a specialized camera that could bring more precision to biomedical imaging and weapons targeting in defense.

A mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) defending its hole.

Gruev, assistant professor of computer science & engineering, is an investigator on a $3.5 million collaborative grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) that will allow them to re-engineer the eye of the mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, that live in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The interdisciplinary team, which includes Gruev, two marine biologists and a physicist, will study the animal’s visual sensory system to learn how it processes information. By sharing principles among the three disciplines, the team aims to decode the inner principles of stomatopod vision to create more efficient design of sensors, imaging devices and analyzers.

Stomatopods have 20 different photoreceptor types, or functional input channels, in their eyes, including 12 channels for color. Gruev and the research team are interested in the mechanisms that function to reduce and analyze the 20 data streams.

“The mantis shrimp are very small creatures, but they have very sophisticated image processing,” Gruev says. “We want to know if we can mimic these sensors or design them to create a specialized camera that has multiple applications.”

In the first two years of the grant, Gruev will develop two underwater polarization sensitive imaging systems housed in an underwater casing that he will design. In the final two years, he will design and build a custom imaging system using silicon dies that mimics the visual image processing of the stomatopod eye. His lab will also design and build printed circuit boards to test the imaging sensor.

Gruev says the camera could be used in biomedical imaging to better detect healthy cells from tumor cells, as well as in military aircraft to find a target in hazy or foggy conditions.

Gruev’s lab has already developed a sensor that can capture polarization properties of light. He went to the Great Barrier Reef, where his colleagues have an underwater optics lab where they can study the stomatopods and test their vision. This project will build on his previous work.