Spatial vision in insects is facilitated by shaping the dynamics of visual input through behavioural action

Frontiers in Neural Circuits. 2012;6 DOI 10.3389/fncir.2012.00108


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Journal Title: Frontiers in Neural Circuits

ISSN: 1662-5110 (Online)

Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.

LCC Subject Category: Medicine: Internal medicine: Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry

Country of publisher: Switzerland

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML, ePUB, XML



Martin eEgelhaaf (Bielefeld University)

Norbert eBöddeker (Bielefeld University)

Roland eKern (Bielefeld University)

Rafael eKurtz (Bielefeld University)

Jens Peter Lindemann (Bielefeld University)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 14 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Insects such as flies or bees, with their miniature brains, are able to control highly aerobatic flight manoeuvres and to solve spatial vision tasks, such as avoiding collisions with obstacles, landing on objects or even localizing a previously learnt inconspicuous goal on the basis of environmental cues. With regard to solving such spatial tasks, these insects still outperform man-made autonomous flying systems. To accomplish their extraordinary performance, flies and bees have been shown by their characteristic behavioural actions to actively shape the dynamics of the image flow on their eyes (optic flow). The neural processing of information about the spatial layout of the environment is greatly facilitated by segregating the rotational from the translational optic flow component through a saccadic flight and gaze strategy. This active vision strategy thus enables the nervous system to solve apparently complex spatial vision tasks in a particularly efficient and parsimonious way. The key idea of this review is that biological agents, such as flies or bees, acquire at least part of their strength as autonomous systems through active interactions with their environment and not by simply processing passively gained information about the world. These agent-environment interactions lead to adaptive behaviour in surroundings of a wide range of complexity. Animals with even tiny brains, such as insects, are capable of performing extraordinarily well in their behavioural contexts by making optimal use of the closed action–perception loop. Model simulations and robotic implementations show that the smart biological mechanisms of motion computation and visually-guided flight control might be helpful to find technical solutions, for example, when designing micro air vehicles carrying a miniaturized, low-weight on-board processor.