Camouflage, detection and identification of moving targets

The Royal Society (Biological Sciences) has recently published an article that I’m pleased to have co-authored. The article describes experiments conducted by myself and my co-researchers from the School of Experimental Psychology, and the School of Biological Sciences, both at University of Bristol. The work was jointly funded by QinetiQ and the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) and supports our work into understanding the effect of motion on camouflaged objects.

Nearly all research on camouflage has investigated its effectiveness for concealing stationary objects. However, animals have to move, and patterns that only work when the subject is static will heavily constrain behaviour. We investigated the effects of different camouflages on the three stages of predation – detection, identification and capture – in a computer-based task with humans.

Our first experiment tested seven camouflage strategies on static stimuli. In line with previous literature, background-matching and disruptive patterns were found to be most successful.

Experiment 2 showed that if stimuli move, an isolated moving object on a stationary background cannot avoid detection or capture, regardless of the type of camouflage.

Experiment 3 used an identification task and showed that while camouflage is unable to slow detection or capture, camouflaged targets are harder to identify than uncamouflaged targets when similar background objects are present. The specific details of the camouflage patterns have little impact on this effect. If one has to move, camouflage cannot impede detection; but if one is surrounded by similar targets (e.g. other animals in a herd, or moving background distractors), then camouflage can slow identification. Despite previous assumptions, motion does not entirely ‘break’ camouflage.

This finding has clear military significance that we at QinetiQ are exploring with our customers, but for obvious reasons the exact details must remain under wraps for now.

Read the full article: Hall JR, Cuthill IC, Baddeley R, Shohet AJ, Scott-Samuel NE. 2013 Camouflage, detection and identification of moving targets. Proc R Soc B 280: 20130064.

Read more about QinetiQ’s exciting work in stealth materials


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