Mantis Shrimp-Inspired Camera

Cameras capture the world as we see it. Be it the golden-hour pictures or a random selfie with our friends, photos have been the way we capture memories and share moments. Through printed photos or Instagram posts, we can glimpse into their lives.

However, glimpsing into the lives of animals as they see it may not be as straightforward.

Humans do not have the ability to see polarized light. Yet, many animals like the Mantis Shrimp, cuttlefish, octopus and even honeybee are known to be able to do so.

Image by Dorothea Oldani via Unsplash

If you think of light waves as strings, with one end attached to a wall, and you shake them randomly, the strings will move in every direction. This is unpolarized light. However, if you restrict your movements to only up and down, the strings will only move in one direction—vertically. This is how polarized light behaves.

Even though we cannot exactly see this, polarization is very much a concept that is used in our daily lives. Take for example, sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses reduce glare by filtering out some polarized light, allowing us to enjoy longer hours under the sun.

Camera by Zane Lee via Unsplash

Like many animals, the Mantis Shrimp can survive well under ‘glaring’ conditions, without the need for sunglasses to make the world human-eye friendly. In fact, this extraordinary shrimp can see six types of polarization! They are also the only animals known to be able to detect circularly polarized light.

How can we study these animals without knowing how the world looks to them? A team led by Viktor Gruev, an engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, built a camera that shows us the Mantis Shrimp’s world. The camera works as though we have six different miniature polarized sunglasses within it, capturing six different types of polarization easily. We can now see the world as some animals do! Thereafter, the camera was brought underwater, to capture what the big, blue ocean looks like.

For us normal human beings, it must be difficult to imagine what a textured ocean looks like. Is it not just blue, sometimes clear, sometimes green (depending on what was done there)? But, as you can see in this video, the world is much more layered and complex than our eyes can detect.

What do these animals use such a superpower for? Scientists have postulated that the ability to see polarized light could be for navigation, hunting, and even mating. But who knows? The Mantis Shrimp-inspired camera has unlocked a new area of study for marine biologists, as it is now possible to study the underwater world through the lens of these amazing creatures.

A literal rendition of “same world, different life”.