Multichannel spectrometers in animals

Thomas W. Cronin, Missael Garcia, Viktor Gruev

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Multispectral, hyperspectral, polarimetric, and other types of multichannel imaging spectrometers are coming into common use for a variety of applications, including remote sensing, material identification, forensics, and medical diagnosis. These instruments are often bulky and intolerant of field abuse, so designing compact, reliable, portable, and robust devices is a priority. In contrast to most engineering designs, animals have been building compact and robust multichannel imaging systems for millennia - their eyes. Biological sensors arise by evolution, of course, and are not designed 'for' a particular use; they exist because the creatures that were blessed with useful mutations were better able to survive and reproduce than their competitors. While this is an inefficient process for perfecting a sensor, it brings unexpected innovations and novel concepts into visual system design - concepts that may be useful in the inspiration of new engineered solutions to problematic challenges, like the ones mentioned above. Here, we review a diversity of multichannel visual systems from both vertebrate and invertebrate animals, considering the receptor molecules and cells, spectral sensitivity and its tuning, and some aspects of the higher-level processing systems used to shape spectral (and polarizational) channels in vision. The eyes of mantis shrimps are presented as potential models for biomimetic multichannel imaging systems. We end with a description of a bioinspired, newly developed multichannel spectral/polarimetric imaging system based on mantis shrimp vision that is highly adaptable to field application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number021001
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • color vision
  • mantis shrimp
  • spectral sensitivity
  • spectrometer
  • visual pigment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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