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Nick Scott-Samuel and Roland Baddeley to construct a “Camouflage Machine”

butterfly

23 January 2015

Nick Scott-Samuel and Roland Baddeley with Professor Innes Cuthill (School of Biological Sciences) have received a large grant from EPSRC to construct a "Camouflage Machine", which will optimise patterns for camouflage and visibility.

Sometimes it is very important not to be seen: a well camouflaged tiger may catch its prey rather than go hungry; a concealed wildlife photographer may get the shot; and whilst much of the infrastructure of the modern environment (mobile telephone masts, wind farms etc.) is necessary, it is far from aesthetically pleasing - reducing visibility may be the difference between getting planning permission or not. In other words, as well as the obvious military applications, a systematic means of minimising the visibility of any object by finding its optimal camouflage pattern for a particular environment could be used in many other ways.

Just as it is sometimes important to minimise visibility, it can also be equally important to maximise it. From signalling in animals to maximising the visibility of warning signs, emergency vehicles, motorbikes and cyclists, there are plenty of examples where making something highly salient is important. We will construct the “Camouflage Machine”: a process to determine optimum camouflage or signalling patterns for a specific environment. Using state-of-the-art computational modelling techniques, our methodology (implemented in a computer program) will allow the comparison and assessment of different approaches to visual concealment and signalling. 

Nick Scott-Samuel has also been awarded another large grant from the BBSRC with Innes Cuthill and Heather Whitney (Biological Sciences) for a 3-year grant investigation ‘Deceptive Iridescence’. Colour is an integral, and striking, feature of many organisms, from the pigments that allow photosynthesis in plants to the vivid displays of birds. However, the function of one sort of colour, iridescence, is not yet fully understood. The striking feature of iridescence is that the colour changes with changing angle of viewing. This can make objects more conspicuous, but the changing patterns also have the potential to deceive and confuse. It is the latter that Nick will investigate, across birds, bees and humans.

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