Specification of the anteroposterior (head-to-tail) axis in the fruit fly <i>Drosophila melanogaster</i> is one of the best understood examples of embryonic pattern formation, at the genetic level. A network of some 14 segmentation genes controls protein expression in narrow domains which are the first manifestation of the segments of the insect body. Work in the New York lab has led to a databank of more than 3300 confocal microscope images, quantifying protein expression for the segmentation genes, over a series of times during which protein pattern is developing (http://flyex.ams.sunysb.edu/FlyEx/). Quantification of the variability in expression evident in this data (both between embryos and within single embryos) allows us to determine error propagation in segmentation signalling. The maternal signal to the egg is highly variable, with noise levels more than several times those seen for expression of downstream genes. This implies that error suppression is active in the embryonic patterning mechanism. Error suppression is not possible with the favored mechanism of local concentration gradient reading for positional specification. We discuss possible patterning mechanisms which do reliably filter input noise.