On the sufficiency of the velocity field for perception of heading

W. H. Warren, A. W. Blackwell, K. J. Kurtz, N. G. Hatsopoulos, M. L. Kalish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


All models of self-motion from optical flow assume the instantaneous velocity field as input. We tested this assumption for human observers using random-dot displays that simulated translational and circular paths of movement by manipulating the lifetime and displacement of individual dots. For translational movement, observers were equally accurate in judging direction of heading from a "velocity field" with a two-frame dot life and a "direction field" in which the magnitudes of displacement were randomized while the radial pattern of directions was preserved, but at chance with a "speed field" in which the directions were randomized, preserving only magnitude. Accuracy declined with increasing noise in vector directions, but remained below 2.6° with a 90° noise envelope. Thus, the visual system uses the radial morphology of vector directions to determine translational heading and can tolerate large amounts of noise in this pattern. For circular movement, observers were equally accurate with a 2-frame "velocity field", 3-frame "acceleration" displays, and 2-frame and 3-frame "direction fields", consistent with the use of the pattern of vector directions to locate the center of rotation. The results indicate that successive independent velocity fields are sufficient for perception of translational and circular heading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Cybernetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • General Computer Science


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