New research into human vision

Researchers from the Psychology departments of Queen's University Belfast, University College London and Saint Andrew's University have made an important finding which will inform research aimed at the development of intelligent robots capable of seeing in a similar way to humans.

Motion-defined transparency is a common occurrence in the natural environment where multiple directions of motion occur in the same spatial region, for example when one sees fish in a fast flowing stream, and is a phenomenon that has invited much scientific discussion.

The research, a joint collaboration between Dr William Curran at Queen's, Dr Paul B Hibbard of the University of St Andrews and Professor Alan Johnston of University College London, examined whether the human visual system detects transparently moving surfaces simultaneously or whether the directions are processed in a serial manner, and was published in a paper by the Royal Society on 7 February.

Previous research had purported to show that the human brain processes the different motion directions in a transparent scene in a serial manner. These findings were based on experiments in which the transparent motions were presented in the same depth plane (ie were the same distance from the viewer). The team's research challenged these previous findings by testing people's ability to detect the direction of transparently moving surfaces when the surfaces are placed at different depths. Their results provided evidence that the human brain does, in fact, process transparent motion directions simultaneously.

Speaking about the work, Dr Curran said, "This adds another small piece to the incredibly complex jigsaw which is the human visual system. It is also relevant to researchers who wish to develop artificial visual systems that 'see' in the same way as humans do."

The research paper can be viewed on the Royal Society website.

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