Hackaday Prize Entry: Grasshopper Neurons

A plague of locusts descends on your garden, and suddenly you realize grasshoppers are very hard to catch. Grasshoppers are nature’s perfect collision avoidance system, and this is due to a unique visual system that includes neurons extending directly from the eye to the animal’s legs. For this Hackaday Prize entry – and as a research project for this summer at Backyard Brains, [Dieu My Nguyen] is studying the neuroscience of grasshopper vision with stabs and shocks.

We visited Backyard Brains about two years ago, and found three very interesting projects. The first was a project on optogenetics, or rewiring neurons so flies taste something sweet when they’re exposed to red light. The second was remote-controlled cockroaches. Number three will shock you: a device that allowed me to expand my megalomania by shocking people with the power of my mind. It’s not all fun and games, though. This grasshopper neuron probe will use the Backyard Brains SpikerBox to investigate when those neurons are activated in response to a stimuli.

The utility of looking at the common grasshopper to learn about collision and object avoidance may not be very apparent at first. The more you learn about neuroscience, the more apparent the biological connection to common computer vision tasks becomes. That makes this a great research project and an excellent entry into the Hackaday Prize.

4 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Grasshopper Neurons

  1. This reminds me about the ‘Locust Avoiding Neurons’. It was discovered and reverse engineered about 10-15 years ago, then Volvo developed an automated car breaking system based on it.

    For whatever reason, at the launching event with all the press whistle and bells, this is what happened:

    :o)

  2. Humans have a similar head collision avoidance reflex and I’ve used it to save a person’s life once. I was waiting in an office waiting room when an old guy walked in off the street, where he lived due to multiple substance abuse problems. He was obviously in a bad way and staggered up to the counter where he attempted to ask for help from the woman there who froze with a look of revulsion on her face, he then half turned around before falling directly backwards hitting his head on the floor with a sickening thump sound. He lay there not moving, just staring at the ceiling and I thought to myself “This isn’t good” so I went over to investigate and sure enough he was wide-eyed and not breathing, the stench of him was nauseating and I did not want to have to give him mouth to mouth to bring him back. I passed my hand right to left over his eyes and saw no reaction then immediately lifted it into the air a rapidly back down at his face while yelling “Hey, come back!” He instantly twitched and drew in a sudden gasp of breath followed by normal breathing and signs of returning consciousness, so I rolled him over in to the “coma position” and told him I’d get help and to stay put. By this time the woman had picked up the phone and was calling an ambulance. There were two old Italian widows dressed in black in the waiting room who were looking at me with a look of awe on their faces which puzzled me until I realised that from their perspective (both kinds) it had looked as if I had made the sign of the cross and commanded the man to return from the dead. Never in my life have I had to work so hard, to keep a straight face.

    1. Kudos for saving the guy’s life, kudos for finding such a unique way of doing it, and kudos for managing to keep a straight face afterward. Those ladies will probably be talking about that for the rest of their lives! :D

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