Virtual Reality is a simulation of an environment and/or situation, generated by computer software and experienced by a user via human-machine interaction. The use of Head-Mounted-Displays (HMD’s) such as the Oculus CV1 and HTC Vive offer new ways for simulations. By using computer simulation actions will be done in a controlled environment. The behavior and reaction of users in the virtual environment will give an impression of the effects in reality. Virtual Reality is often used for educational purpose and for studies in behavior and experience.
Virtual Reality as research method
CycleSpex is a Virual Reality (VR) simulator for cycling developed by Breda University of Applied Sciences. With CycleSpex VR-technology is used as an innovative research method for studies in cycle experience in a built environment. The research tool allows researches and policymakers to develop several scenario’s related to knowledge and design challenges in the field of cycling. Stakeholders and (potential) users can be involved in the design process and experience the scenario’s in the virtual reality. An advantage of this research tool is that several solutions for spatial challenges can be evaluated on forehand. This will give important input for policymakers to make decisions in investments and future plans.
The setup of CycleSpex exists of a regular bike connected to a trainer. To make the experience as real as possible the pedaling and stirring of the user will turned into the right movements in the virtual environment. A game development studio (Atlantis Games) designed the virtual environments which will be shown in a Head Mounted Display (HMD), in this case the Oculus CV1.
To do research with CycleSpex an experimental design is used. The knowledge/research questions will be translated into different scenarios that will have different environmental aspects. Each scenario has his own specifics such as amount of traffic, day/night, green, lighting, signs etcetera. The researcher will determine the specifics for each scenario in such a way that the aspects that are relevant for the research question appear in several ways. Each participant will experience a few scenario’s. After every scenario the participant will see one or more questions in-game that can be answered by looking at the preferred answer. The answer categories vary from yes/no and multiple choice to a 7-point Likert scale. This allows researchers to ask a variety of questions such as whether someone has seen a specific object (yes/no) or how much they felt safe (7-point Likert scale). The setup will log data of every participant. The data includes the scenario’s that the participant has experienced, the given answers, the cycle movements (speed, stirring, position of the bike) and headtracking (how people looked through the environment).
For a good research approach the follow aspects have to be discussed:
- The way the reality is transformed into the virtual world. Sometimes the ambition is to make the virtual reality environment as real as possible. But local aspects can distract the participant from the research topic and therefor it sometimes might be desirable to make the virtual reality environment more general.
- Which specifics will vary over the scenarios. A lot of specifics can be changed while setting up a scenario. The more variation between the scenarios the less easy it is to pinpoint the aspects that causes a behavior. Besides that a participant will lose his attention when to many scenarios are shown to one participant. It is wise to consider which specifics have the main focus.
The region of Northern Brabant (NL) want to create a new standard for wayfinding of cycle highways. With the use of CycleSpex and the case study of the cycle highway of Tilburg-Waalwijk different concepts for wayfinding are tested on readability, understanding and whether the signs are recognizable for cycle highways. The results will help to develop the new signs for cycle highways.
Cycle infrastructure and tunnels
The City of Schiedam (NL) has design challenges related to cycle tunnels at the three main cycle tracks in the city. With the use of CycleSpex the city of Schiedam want to have insights on how to approach these design challenges and how to test different designs on the (potential) cyclists of the city. Which indicators have influence on a positive value given by the citizens?
Lessons learned using virtual reality
- Citizens are more inclined to participate
- VR functions as trigger to share experiences and opinions
- Involving target groups that are difficult to reach (youth)
- VR technology appeals to a broader audience than traditional research methods (surveys, peer groups)
- Clear results on effects of specific variables (traffic intensity, day/night difference etc.)
- Improved VR technologies rule out former negative side effects on actual results (dizziness)