Three types of looming-selective neurons have been found in the nucleus rotundus of pigeons, each computing a different optical variable related to image expansion of objects approaching on a direct collision course with the bird. None of these neurons respond to simulated approach toward stationary objects. A detailed analysis of these neurons' firing pattern to approaching objects of different sizes and velocities shows that one group of neurons signals relative rate of expansion τ (tau), a second group signals absolute rate of expansion ρ (rho), and a third group signals yet another optical variable η (eta). The ρ parameter is required for the computation of both τ and η, whose respective ecological functions probably provide precise 'time-to-collision' information and 'early warning' detection for large approaching objects.
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The authors wish to thank T. Kripalani and S. David for excellent technical assistance and D. Fleet and N. Troje for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscripts. HJS was supported by a Postgraduate Scholarship from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. This work was supported by an NSERC grant OGP0000353 and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award to BJF.
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