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Foundations of Perception Engineering

Project description

Applying engineering principles to create perceptual illusions

VR creates perceptual illusions that can enhance remote work, online education, healthcare and even social interactions – all from a distance. With this in mind, the ERC-funded ILLUSIVE project will develop mathematical and scientific foundations for an emerging discipline that the researchers call perception engineering. The key insight is that perceptual illusions themselves are the target, which must be developed using the time tested principles of engineering. Bringing together a team of experts from VR, neuroscience, perceptual psychology, robotics, control theory, and pure mathematics, the project will draw from the notion of ‘information spaces’ that can be traced to the work of John von Neumann on game theory.


Virtual reality (VR) technology has enormous potential to transform society, especially as the world faces unprecedented challenges of remote work and social distancing brought on by COVID 19. Through telepresence it uniquely enhanced health care, collaborative design, education, and social interaction, all from a distance. Further benefits arise by incorporating synthetic models, which advance computer interfaces, data visualization, and immersive storytelling.

In spite of its potential, the VR industry has struggled through hype cycles as devices built from co-opted component technologies fail to meet the expectations of each generation. As an industry leader in Huawei and early Oculus VR, I concluded that the struggle is largely due to the lack of a rigorous foundation that draws from scientific disciplines of perceptual psychology, neuroscience, and human physiology. I propose to reduce the gap between engineering and these human-centered sciences by developing a new field of perception engineering. In this pioneering view, the object being engineered is the illusion itself, and the physical devices that achieve it are auxiliary.

This project focuses on developing mathematical foundations for VR that unify engineering concepts from robotics and control theory with their biological-system counterparts, especially predictive coding and the free energy principle. A cornerstone is von Neumann-Morgenstern information spaces, introduced for games with hidden information, which I have leveraged for fundamental problems in robotics throughout my research career. Our team will include experts from VR, neuroscience, perceptual psychology, robotics, control theory, and pure mathematics. The work will lay a foundation for principled engineering approaches to design, simulation, prediction, and analysis of sustained, targeted perceptual illusions. This would offer valuable guidance and deeper insights into VR, robotics, and possibly the sciences that study perception.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 496 578,00
90014 Oulu

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Manner-Suomi Pohjois- ja Itä-Suomi Pohjois-Pohjanmaa
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 496 578,00

Beneficiaries (1)