Monday, September 30, 2013

Not-so-blurred vision

The other day I saw an interesting science- (and business-) related post about how Mercedes is equipping its latest models with something like active suspension: the car senses the road immediately ahead of it and adjusts accordingly. That's interesting in itself, but the story noted that Mercedes' ad campaign centered on how this was modeled on the way a chicken's vision works. The idea is that instead of simply "interpreting out" the chicken's movement from what it sees, the brain instead tells the bird's neck muscles to keep the head completely stationary.

This all came back to me this morning as I was dodging other pedestrians in the North Point train station. Despite my shucking, jiving and waiting for people to cram onto an escalator, my vision was clear. But my head was definitely moving. Our brains are big and complicated enough to not only do important things like invent sliced bread, but filter out our body's movements. That's one reason why you can play sports (and do other active things) without becoming horribly disoriented. Compare that to video shot from a head mounted camera, which obviously does not have the benefit of cranial editing. It can be vertiginous:

So in theory, if you put a chicken in a downhill bike race, the resulting footage would be much smoother. Also, you would have taught a chicken to ride a bike, which is a much bigger achievement, I'd say.

Anyway. Really not much more than a random though about how everyday activities are much more complicated than we give them credit for. And it's impressive that we can think about these things while walking, running, or even bobbing our heads to music.

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