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Vision Res. 2003 Sep;43(20):2173-83.

Discrimination of travel distances from 'situated' optic flow.

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1
Allgemeine Zoologie und Neurobiologie, Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum, D-44780, Bochum, Germany.

Abstract

Effective navigation requires knowledge of the direction of motion and of the distance traveled. Humans can use visual motion cues from optic flow to estimate direction of self-motion. Can they also estimate travel distance from visual motion?Optic flow is ambiguous with regard to travel distance. But when the depth structure of the environment is known or can be inferred, i.e., when the flow can be calibrated to the environmental situation, distance estimation may become possible. Previous work had shown that humans can discriminate and reproduce travel distances of two visually simulated self-motions under the assumption that the environmental situation and the depth structure of the scene is the same in both motions. Here we ask which visual cues are used for distance estimation when this assumption is fulfilled. Observers discriminated distances of visually simulated self-motions in four different environments with various depth cues. Discrimination was possible in all cases, even when motion parallax was the only depth cue available. In further experiments we ask whether distance estimation is based directly on image velocity or on an estimate of observer velocity derived from image velocity and the structure of the environment. By varying the simulated height above ground, the visibility range, or the simulated gaze angle we modify visual information about the structure of the environment and alter the image velocity distribution in the optic flow. Discrimination ability remained good. We conclude that the judgment of travel distance is based on an estimate of observer speed within the simulated environment.

PMID:
12855252
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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