A new shrimp-inspired camera may help future technology see better underwater, according to new research published in the journal Science Advances.
This discovery comes from researchers at the University of Illinois, who took the expert underwater vision of the mantis shrimp and put it into a special camera. While humans cannot see well beneath the waves — mainly due to our thousands of years on land — many marine creatures can easily peer through the clear liquid.
The team in the study analyzed such creatures in order to understand which ones could see the best. That then led them to the mantis shrimp, which they used to create a brand new bio-inspired camera.
They chose the crustaceans because they can detect the polarization properties of underwater light. That means they are able to read how light refracts as it passes through water and bounces off of individual molecules. Using that as a baseline, the team managed to create a unique style of underwater GPS.
“We collected underwater polarization data from all over the world in our work with marine biologists and noticed that the polarization patterns of the water were constantly changing,” said study co-author Viktor Gruev, a professor at the University of Illinois, in a statement. “This was in stark contrast to what biologists thought about underwater polarization information. They thought the patterns were a result of a camera malfunction, but we were pretty sure of our technology, so I knew this phenomenon warranted further investigation.”
In the study, scientists found that the underwater polarization patterns captured by the shrimp-like camera are linked to the sun’s position relative to the location where the recording was made. Using such information, researchers were able to estimate the sun’s heading and elevation angle. As a result, the team found they could calculate their coordinates by only knowing the date and time of filming.
Once they equipped the camera with an electronic compass and tilt sensor they were able to locate their position anywhere on Earth. Though the method is not as accurate at satellite reads, it is the best current GPS method for an underwater device.
Such information could one day help scientists locate missing aircraft or create detailed seafloor maps. There is even a chance it may allow biologists to track and study different marine species.
“Animals like turtles and eels, for example, probably use a slew of sensors to navigate their annual migration routes that take them thousands of miles across oceans,” added Gruev, according to ZME Science. “Those sensors may include a combination of magnetic, olfactory and possibly – as our research suggests – visual cues based on polarization information.”