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A new video camera shows us how animals truly see colors

The new equipment could allow scientists to better understand how animals communicate and navigate in the world.
A new video camera show us how animals truly see colors
Posted at 7:14 PM, Jan 24, 2024

While TikTok is raving about the "Dog Vision" filter, scientists are busy making cool tech that actually shows us what the world really looks like to animals.

Scientists have developed a camera system with an impressive accuracy of over 92% that captures how animals truly see colors.

“The camera system and the associated software package will allow ecologists to investigate how animals use colors in dynamic behavioral displays, the ways natural illumination alters perceived colors, and other questions that remained unaddressed until now due to a lack of suitable tools,” the scientists wrote in a study published Tuesday in the PLOS Biology journal.

According to the study, the team of scientists used a special camera and software to make videos with different colors of light, like blue, green, red, and ultraviolet (UV). They changed the videos to show how animals see these colors based on what we already know about their eyes, and then they turned the data into videos that match how each animal sees the colors.

“Each animal possesses a unique set of photoreceptors, with sensitivities ranging from ultraviolet through infrared, adapted to their ecological needs. In addition, many animals can detect polarized light. As a result, each animal perceives color differently,” the study reads.

The scientists further explain that since our human eyes or current cameras available on the market can’t capture the variation of light animals are able to see, the new equipment could allow scientists to better understand how animals communicate and navigate in the world.

But how does the camera work?

The scientist say the camera system has a special part called a beam splitter. It separates UV light from regular light and sends each to two independent consumer-level cameras, and they record all colors at the same time, making video recording possible. After recording, the colors are adjusted and changed to match how animals see them. This is done using a process called “linearization and transformation,” creating colors based on photoreceptor quantum catches, which is how many tiny particles of light (photons) are caught by cells in the eyes called photoreceptors.

For example, the picture below shows a peacock feather seen through four different sets of eyes. A) A peafowl B) Humans C) Honeybees and D) Dogs. 

“We’ve long been fascinated by how animals see the world. Modern techniques in sensory ecology allow us to infer how static scenes might appear to an animal; however, animals often make crucial decisions on moving targets (e.g., detecting food items, evaluating a potential mate’s display, etc.). Here, we introduce hardware and software tools for ecologists and filmmakers that can capture and display animal-perceived colors in motion,” said author and assistant professor at George Mason University, Daniel Hanley.

While the camera is not on the market yet, scientists say that it was made by using regular cameras and a modular casing made with a 3D printer. The software, however, is open-source, meaning other researchers can use it and build on the technology as needed. 

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