An Investigation of Navigation Processes in Human Locomotor Behavior


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Virginia Tech


For humans, walking is the principle means of locomotion, or moving from one point to another. While upright locomotion is a human characteristic, the way humans direct their locomotion has not been studied extensively. Prior to the late 1940's, little research or scholarly thought was published regarding locomotion. In 1950, J. J. Gibson published one of the first texts on visual perception, which included theories and research on how humans interpret and react to a world of movement, even as they move within that world. Published research on the topic has been sporadic since then, especially when compared to the volume of work on eye-hand coordination and other eye-brain perception issues. Very little work has been documented on humans moving in a "real world" setting, not laboratory settings or under very specific timing requirements.

This study begins by proposing a heuristic framework of human navigation, a description of how humans move from point to point, navigating over and across navigation hazards in the walking path. The heuristic model provides an engineering perspective for the safe design of pedestrian areas, allowing sufficient area for visual recognition of hazards.

Two observational studies were performed, one with four different navigation hazards humans come in contact with and the other one with two different hazards that humans pass without contacting. These two classes of hazards involve different perceptual principles. The studies examined the effects of ambient lighting available affected the time required for high attention, fine navigation when approaching a navigation hazard. Specific comparisons between types of navigation hazards were not contemplated, since the perceptual and motor requirements varied considerably among the hazards. Low ambient light levels, representing twilight and night conditions, increase the amount of time required for fine navigation. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed a statistically significant difference in the fine navigation time to contact a navigation hazard for stairs travelling down, a 900 turn in the path, and walking downhill with a step midway. ANOVA also showed a significant difference in the fine navigation time to pass a navigation hazard for two different hazards. Under all conditions, post hoc analysis showed Night lighting levels were different from Day lighting levels.

Practical applications of this research are in the facilities planning and safety design fields. The individual's locomotion speed combined with the fine navigation time required determines the distance needed for visual recognition of the hazard and preparatory locomotor changes. With extensive research, formalized guidelines and standards can be developed for the safe planning, design and redesign of pedestrian walkways. The human factors engineer could interact knowledgeably with other professional designers to assure that walking paths are designed to meet the human's requirements for safe locomotion.



locomotion, visually moderated behavior, navigation