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Honey bee optic flow and road stripes

Honey bee optic flow and road stripes

I found out about this visual effect called optic flow and how it helps a Honey bee (aka honeybee) determine it’s speed and relative position to objects. This all makes sense….the faster you are going, the faster objects near you move by. That sensation is called optic flow and there are all kinds of mathematical formulas developed to measure that. But researchers wanted to see how a Honey bee figures out it’s place in space (there’s an interesting place called the All Weather Bee Flight Facility at the Australian National University). You know, you can fool these insects if you mess with their surroundings. If you put a Honey bee in a solidly painted room, it can’t figure out if it’s really near anything when it flies. Nothing is moving by it so it will fly into the wall thinking it’s just in open space. What a dirty trick! Apparently Honey bees don’t have sonar.

In this book I’m reading called, The Eye – A Natural History by Simon Ings, this Honey bee researcher wanted to know how a pilot knows how to land a plane as the plane is aiming down at the runway. The pilot said he looks at a point and then when the ground “explodes” you flatten out. I remember that effect. My CFI (certified flight instructor) demonstrated the landing technique to me and I thought we were going to explode in a metal carnage on the runway but right before that he leveled the plane for a smooth landing. I bet a Honey bee never worries about a crash landing. They’re pretty light weight anyway so bumping into a wall might not be carnage for them….just a slight brain bruise. We humans sure do need a lot of nurturing and mind control before attempting strange things like flying a small plane.

When you’re driving down a highway with stripes on the road or if you’re a passenger, those white lines move by at a certain rate which I’ll figure out for you. We’re not landing on the road with a plane but as you’re driving down the road those stripes are flowing by at a certain pace like….optic flow. I found out that the distance between them is supposed to be 30 feet and the length of the stripe is 10 feet. I used a chart from an Indiana state drivers manual (in case you want to see what Indiana says about driving) to calculate how fast your car would have to go to make each stripe go by once per second. That would be about 24 mph. That’s pretty slow. If you were going 72 mph (3 times as fast) then 3 stripes would go by each second. Since those stripes would go by that fast it’s easy to see how one might think the stripes were closer together than they really are. But who uses stripes to estimate speed when we’ve got it easy by looking at a speedometer? Maybe I’ll try it and see how close I can guess how fast I’m going by timing the stripes next time I’m flying down the freeway (in a car).

Going back to the exploding view that a pilot has when headed towards the runway I wonder how else we use optic flow or if we’re even aware of it. I think it’s more of a subconscious calculation like our little Honey bee friends use when they’re flying around….subconscious except only when you’re in the front seat of a small plane headed towards concrete for the first time!

A little interesting short article about nerve cells and optic flow from Max Planck Institute.

This picture was taken out of the book I mentioned in this article.

optic flow arrows

optic flow arrows



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Crowd-sourcing citizen science

Crowd-sourcing citizen science

Crowd sourcing citizen science is awesome! Scientists need you to help them figure things out and it’s very easy and free and fun. Do you realize how much data they are collecting and how little time they have to analyze what they’ve collected? Take this for example….how many galaxies there are in the visible universe……billions. You’d think a computer could be programmed to decipher what’s what but the human ability to make judgment calls seems to work best. There are some citizen science projects that might cost a little money and I’ll mention one of those that I just found out about later.

First, let’s go over a very cool project analyzing galaxies.  By looking at the images made from telescopes you can determine if the galaxy is new, old or ever disrupted from colliding with another galaxy (sorry to say but the Milky Way will be “colliding” with Andromeda…many billions of years from now). Astronomers will be able to analyze huge samples of what people like you and me analyze from identifying individual galaxies. The main study of these galaxies started with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in the year 2000 and used a 126 megapixel camera. I analyzed some of the galaxies not too long ago and it’s very easy. The website provides a lot of information about the project to help you appreciate what they’re trying to do. Go here to help or find out more.

The galaxy project is to investigate the very large and far away but there is another project to investigate the very small and earthly bound organisms. You want to help scientists know what the ecology is of our oceans? I’m not sure if I learned this in school but plankton aren’t just one little species of sea creature. There are thousands of different types and if you’ve ever seen some of those weird creatures that live deep in the water, these are pretty fascinating and weird too. So I’ve classified some of them and again, interesting and fun. Here’s where you can find that study.

I might as well tell you that this one website lists all of those and more so maybe you can find something interesting there to entertain yourself and maybe learn a little about some of the research that’s ongoing. The website is https://www.zooniverse.org/. What a great website!

What if you like to watch birds? There’s the backyard program for that. I wish my backyard was bigger and had more trees but even if you don’t have a backyard, the area around you is backyard enough. Go here to learn about this study.

I have an app on my iphone that I use to take pictures of the sky when a couple of satellites fly overhead daily. It’s a free app and after you take the picture of the sky and another one of your surroundings you submit it and later you get a picture back from the satellite that just went overhead. I don’t know if there’s an app for android or not but you can check. The name of the IOS app is Satcam. How cool is that to get an image back on your iphone of what the satellite saw when it passed overhead?

Do you know about the morphology of proteins? Proteins have to wrap around in all kinds of shapes to be effective at what they do but if a particular protein isn’t in the right shape it can be the cause of a certain disease. In this crowd sourced study the only thing you need to do is download their program to your computer which is used for solving the proteins shapes and folds. This is also like the SETI at home project which analyzes radio signals from space. You can also try folding proteins from this website, http://fold.it/portal/ which lets you…..fold the protein.

Oh, the water analysis project…I almost forgot. I haven’t read much about this and not sure exactly how and when this takes place. Sometimes these studies end so if you’re reading this and find out a study ended, let me know so I can post an addendum about that.

And the one that I just found the other day that does cost a little is a very cool idea. Right now it’s a kickstarter campaign so if this doesn’t get enough participants then it may not happen. But the main goal is to see if you can find a new antibiotic. Yep, that’s right. A lot of antibiotics are probably still undiscovered and they could possibly be in a plant growing in your yard. You can find out more about this project here.

And another one for my optometrist friends or anyone that wants to connect retinal neurons….eyewire.org

That should keep you busy during the upcoming Christmas/holiday break if you’re looking for something different to do! Crowd-sourced citizen science!


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