An MIT news release describes the underlying neural mechanism researcher believe is responsible for our ability to visually categorize surface textures. We can tell at a glance whether a surface is a rough or glossy. The researchers believe our brain has collections of neurons that respond to positive or negative skewing of a luminance histogram. The asymmetry of the histogram correlates to the surface quality. Glossy, darker surfaces tend to be skewed positively, while rougher surfaces are skewed negatively. There are immediately applications to machine vision, with autonomous vehicles high on the list. Being able to easily determine if the road is icy or dry, paved or dirt would be very useful. NTT, who collaborated on this research, offers a more detailed summary of the research which includes example images and histograms.