Snakes and their mother F’ing infrared vision

snake visionClive Thompson, never afraid to take a movie seriously when it isn’t supposed to be, has a post that analyzes the science in Snakes on a Plane’s “snake vision” they use in the movie. As you remember (because you did see the movie, right?), there were several green-vision shots through the eyes of the snakes right before they attacked, and he wondered if Snakes really saw things in this way:

As it turns out, the question of Snake-O-Vision has long puzzled scientists, particularly in two types of deadly serpents — pit vipers and boid snakes. These snakes can strike prey with accuracy even when they’re blindfolded, which suggests they’re using a “pit organ” on each side of their head that senses infrared radiation. The problem is that these pit organs are one millimeter in size and not very deep — which means they could produce only extremely blurry images. So how do the snakes do it?

A trio of German scientists now theorize that the snakes use firmware in their brains to error-correct the lousy imagery by harnessing the infrared noise produced by a moving prey. They built a neural-net model in a computer that mimics this, and fed it the actual data produced by a pit organ’s 2000-odd receptors. Presto: It refined the blurry images into startlingly precise results. Check out the example above: There’s the actual bunny, the blurry image from the pit organ (top right), and the result generated by their neural net (bottom right).

So if you ever create a comic book super hero called Snake Man, make sure you have a scene where he’s blindfolded and still able to take out his enemies with his infrared vision.

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