What Is a Perception Lab?

Mary McMahon

A perception lab is a research facility where scientists explore cognition and perception in humans or machines. Such institutions are usually attached to colleges and universities, although they can be independent or associated with private companies. Some computing companies, for example, work on machine cognition and perception as part of their product development process. Researchers in this field commonly have advanced degrees in subjects like psychology, neurology, or computer science.

A perception lab might work with machines and facial recognition research.
A perception lab might work with machines and facial recognition research.

In the case of a human perception lab, the facility provides resources to study how humans acquire and interpret information about the world around them. Some facilities focus on a specific facet of perception like vision or hearing. Others may study whole cognitive systems, with ongoing research into a number of kinds of perception. The facility may provide computing power and space to conduct experiments, along with supporting equipment.

Labs may have multiple projects going on at once with different sponsors. Research teams can include people from numerous disciplines with an interest in human perception. Traffic engineers, for example, could work with neurologists to find out how people interact with traffic signs. This information can help them design more effective signage for roadways, to reduce the risk of accidents and make sure information is conveyed clearly to motorists. Perception research can inform a variety of communications, from the layout of textbooks to the design of three-dimensional movies.

Computer cognition research takes these studies in a different direction. At a perception lab with an interest in machine perception, researchers work on activities like coding to allow robots to navigate mazes and recognize sound input. This research can support a variety of products that interact with their environments and are capable of learning. Machine perception can have commercial applications for activities like quality control on assembly lines and facial recognition.

Vision is a particular field of interest with machine perception. Computers are capable of scanning large amounts of visual input very quickly with the right programming, which can have important perceptions for a perception lab. Researchers at a perception lab can work on subjects like utilizing computer recognition to replace people for boring, repetitive tasks where error rates can increase due to lack of stimulation. Machine perception is also important for activities like developing more advanced robotics and simulations of human perception for research purposes. Simulators can show how and where human perception goes wrong in studies where the use of human subjects is not practical.

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