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Applied Bionics and Biomechanics
Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 45-52

Visual Warning Signals Optimized for Human Perception: What the Eye Sees Fastest

B. L. Gros, D. S. Greenhouse, and T. E. Cohn

Group in Vision Science and Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-2020, USA

Copyright © 2005 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study aimed to answer the question of how to design a visual warning signal that is most easily seen and produces the quickest reaction time. This is a classic problem of bionic optimization—if one knows the properties of the receiver one can most easily find a suitable solution. Because the peak of the spatio-temporal contrast sensitivity function of the human visual system occurs at non-zero spatial and temporal frequencies, it is likely that movement enhances the detectability of threshold visual signals. Earlier studies employing extended drifting sinewave gratings bear out this prediction. We have studied the ability of human observers to detect threshold visual signals for both moving and stationary stimuli. We used discrete, localized signals such as might be employed in aerospace or automotive warning signal displays. Moving stimuli show a superior detectability to non-moving stimuli of the same integrated energy. Moving stimuli at threshold detectability are seen faster than non-moving threshold stimuli. Under some conditions the speed advantage is over 0.25 seconds. Similar advantages have also been shown to occur for suprathreshold signals.