Photoreceptor processing improves salience facilitating small target detection in cluttered scenes

Russell S. A. Brinkworth, Eng-Leng Mah, Jodi P. Gray, David C. O'Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Target detection amidst clutter is a challenging task for both natural and artificial vision, yet one solved at the level of neurons in the 3rd optic ganglion of insects. These neurons are capable of responding to the motion of small objects, even against complex moving backgrounds. While the basic physiology has been investigated, little is known about how these cells are able to reject background motion while robustly responding to such small stimuli. By recording intracellularly from fly photoreceptors stimulated with natural image sequences containing a target viewed against a complex moving background, we show that the process of target detection begins at the earliest stages of vision. The temporal processing by photoreceptors alone, in the absence of any spatial interactions, improved the discrimination of targets (essentially a spatial task) by around 70%. This enhancement of target salience can be explained by elaborate models of photoreceptor temporal non-linear dynamics. The application of the functonal principals outlined in this work could be utilized in areas such as robotics and surveillance, medical imaging, or astronomy, anywhere it is necessary to detect a small item from a cluttered surround.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological vision
  • Biomimetic
  • Insect vision
  • Visual processing
  • Visual target detection


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