Perceptual & Cognitive Systems

The procurement, design and development of safe, durable, reliable and user-friendly products and technology: when it comes to this, customers and partners in the defence and security domain (among others) can count on the expertise of the Perceptual & Cognitive Systems (PCS) research group. Our mission, in a nutshell, is to generate knowledge and develop methods that facilitate interactions between people and technological systems.

Within our department, we study, among other things, the effects of human-machine collaboration on people’s performances, behaviours and motivations. We do this in relation to various topics, such as artificial intelligence, interface design and perception.

PCS has four areas of expertise:

Human-AI-Robot-Teaming (HART)

Human-AI-Robot-Teaming (HART)

The potential for artificial intelligence (AI) is growing. This is reflected in our daily lives, in which we’re increasingly working alongside smart systems. People, computers, machines, devices and robots can complement and learn from one another. As an example, largely autonomous drones can provide people on the ground with the precise information that is relevant to them. Another example is a system that adapts its explanations to the user so that instructions are understandable for everyone. And how about a robot that helps care providers to offer their patients appropriate care, even remotely? The AI specialists in our HART team are developing and testing systems to improve human-machine interactions and to optimise collaboration between people and systems.

Human Interaction Team

What should new information systems aboard the naval fleet look like? Which data visualisation interface will give professionals in an emergency control room the best overview of what’s happening so that they can act more effectively? Our Human Interaction Team conducts research into interactions between people and technology. Together with users, we apply this knowledge to the design and optimisation of processes and products. The goal: better human-system interactions for effective imaging and decision-making. The specialists in this team have backgrounds mainly in interaction design, industrial design and cognitive psychology.

Perception and Mental State Monitoring

Perception and Mental State Monitoring

For innovations in the defence and security domain (but also elsewhere), research into perception, with or without tools such as cameras and night vision equipment, is essential. Consider issues in the field of visibility, such as camouflage. How do you make something undetectable? Or vice-versa: how do you make objects stand out, such as traffic signs that keep people safe on the road? At Perception and Mental State Monitoring, physicists answer these kinds of questions by taking on-site measurements and developing models that predict the visibility and recognisability of objects. In addition, this team includes neuropsychologists and engineers who focus on monitoring people’s mental states. This relates to how someone feels but also whether someone is distracted or very focused. We don’t only ask these questions; we also measure physiological signals such as skin conductance, heart rate, eye movements or brain signals. The insights we gain can be used to design interactive systems that support people.

Human Performance in Adverse and Demanding Environments (AHEAD)

Optimal performance under challenging conditions is essential for professionals within the defence, aerospace, automotive and maritime sectors. The AHEAD team assists them on a wide range of issues. How can we best prepare pilots for extreme, disorientating aircraft movements, for processing a great deal of information in extreme situations at a high altitude with little oxygen, or for escaping from a helicopter that crash-landed upside down into water? On top of this: can we predict the risk of car sickness in self-driving vehicles and can we develop applications to prevent this? And how do we create an immersive digital environment (such as virtual and augmented reality) in which users can perform their tasks well but do not suffer from cybersickness? The AHEAD team applies various specialists to this research, with expertise in the fields of, among others, motion detection, physiology, aerospace technology, simulation, modelling and didactics.

Examples of our projects

  • We’ve developed a social robot that offers support for children with diabetes and their parents.
  • In a European project, we’ve developed new technology that allows for better collaboration between people and robots in large-scale search and rescue operations following disasters.
  • Our Crew Design tool helps to select the right mix of automation and crew members for naval vessels.
  • On the basis of our knowledge of human perception of motion, a software tool has been developed to identify disorientation among pilots.
  • We’re investigating how we can continuously monitor, through easily measurable physiological signals, where attention is directed within a group and whether everyone is still paying attention during a class.
  • We developed the camouflage pattern for the new combat uniforms of the Dutch army.
  • Our knowledge of human perception and camera technology has been brought together in a European software model for predicting recognition with night vision equipment.

Working at TNO

Want to strengthen one of our departments? Or are you interested in an internship or graduation project? Take a look at our current vacancies.

Unique testing facilities

Our research group has a state-of-the-art research environment consisting of a set of unique, diverse facilities. In Soesterberg, for example, you can find AI-robotics laboratories in which we test optimal collaboration between smart systems and people. Not to mention various motion simulators for research in disorientation and motion sickness in aeroplanes, ships or self-driving cars, including the centrifuge simulator DESDEMONA.

Within the AEOLUS partnership, we share a number of advanced facilities with the Center for Man in Aviation of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. In our Brain-Machine Lab, we perform (neuro)physiological measurements of people’s cognitive and emotional states. We also have access to a 40-metre long (dark) hallway in which we carry out visual perception experiments, perform light measurements and test various commercial and military sensors.

This is just a small selection of our facilities for various testing and research objectives. If you want to investigate a complex issue, you’ve come to the right place.

Collaborate with us

Interested in what PCS can do for your organisation?

Our work

Tanker Remote Vision System

TNO developed the Tanker Remote Vision System (TRVS), with corresponding spare parts, documentation and testing equipment to the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Read more
Our work


EU Project: Simulation of UPset Recovery in Avaition Read more
Our work

Desdemona: the next generation in movement simulation

The multi-purpose Desdemona simulator recently installed at TNO will definitely push the limits of movement simulation. Desdemona is a movement simulator, disorientation trainer and advanced research... Read more

Human performance in adverse and demanding environments

The mission of the multi-disciplinary TNO team AHEAD is improving human performance, safety, health and wellbeing in environments that are adverse and high-demanding, which impose high physical, cognitive... Read more
See also

Expertise groups


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