IVAS eXPeriment

Thirty-five people took part in the Immersive Virtual Architecture Studio (IVAS) between 26th February and 9th March 2018. The experiment was simply presented as a room scale VR experience where you would have to solve a few jigsaw puzzles inside different rooms. This was one of the most important and exciting parts of my PhD research project. Follows a short explanation of context, purpose and approach.

Soapbox VR room running IVAS with Dean.

Context

Homo Sapiens’ biggest achievement, to a certain extent, as a global civilization, has been to transform and adapt the environment to his needs. The main strength to achieve this outcome is Sapiens “spatial awareness”: the ability to perceive and make sense of his spatial environment and the intrinsic sense of agency that it affords. Sapiens developed this ability following different trait, the most recognizable one being known under the field of “architecture”. For more than five thousand years, using bricks and mortar, he built places to fulfill all the different functions required by society: services, religions, politics and other cultural activities. In the 21st century, Virtual Reality (VR), an inherently spatial technology, offers us the perfect medium to test and apply some architectural principles developed over the centuries to structure and navigate today’s overwhelming digital landscape.

Purpose

The built environment has a significant effect on humans behavior in the physical world (1). How does that translate in VR? The overall aim of this project is to establish the foundations of a framework to support the design of Immersive Virtual Environments. Such a framework will have benefits not only for scientists but in every field VR is disrupting such as game design, industrial design, data visualization and learning applications to name just a few.

Approach

This study is exploring ways to evaluate how different architectural elements affect human’s spatial cognition performance using the IVAS. The following steps will be to apply those findings to support specific cognitive tasks for specific users. This particular iteration of the project is looking at two architectural elements arranged following two spatial characteristics. Those fours conditions are tested using three cognitive tasks. Follows a short description of the setup.

Physical Space – Hardware – Mode of Interaction

For most of our history, natural movement has been the only way to navigate our environment and to experience “architecture”, therefore, it is the primary mode of interaction used in this experiment. To accompany this principle, a room-scale VR environment is set up with a minimum of 9 sqm (3mx3m) of navigable space. In this instance, the IVAS exp. happened in two different rooms, at two different sites: Goldsmiths, Hatcham house, 1 and Soapbox, Old Street 68.
The second mode of interaction is the VR system which is composed of an HTC Vive head-mounted display with two wireless hand-held controllers allowing together 18 degrees of freedom (18 DOF) of movement. The headset is tethered to a powerful laptop that runs the simulation.

Prt Screen from Unity running IVAS A1

Virtual Space – Software – 3D Models

The room with approximately the same dimensions as the physical room is modeled in 3D and will serve as the base for the different conditions (architectural scenes) that will be tested. All other 3D assets are modeled using 3Dsmax before being imported in Unity3D where the interactivity is programmed.

Spatial Conditions

Two architectural elements, wall and columns, were studied following two spatial characteristics: enclosure and complexity (3)

  • A1 : Close Columns
  • A2 : Open Columns
  • B1 : Close Walls
  • B2 : Open Walls
Layout of the different conditions.

Three Tasks involving Spatial Cognition

Solving a Jigsaw Puzzle

This task was design to encourage participants to navigate the space in search for all the items needed to solve the puzzle. A stopwatch was encouraging them to do so as fast as possible – a way to measure performance. VR allows to easily track user’s movement: time, position and rotation. Everybody seems to have enjoyed solving the jigsaw puzzle and were very focused on the task. I had to remind them to explore the space before starting the task. Once the puzzle was solved, the participant was automatically transferred to a transition area where he had to rate two experiential qualities.

Rating of Experiential Qualities (REQ)

The spatial analysis can only be meaningful in regards to an equivalent evaluation from a human experience point of view. Evaluating “lived space” (2) can be done by asking participants to rate their experience with each spatial characteristics. This task brings the qualitative human evaluation into the equation. Using a semantic differential scaling technique, subjects were able to differentiate their appraisal using a five-step Likert-like scale. The rating categories were selected to represent previously mentioned properties: enclosure and complexity.

Perspective Taking Task (PTT)

Once out of the IVAS, participants had to answer a few questions on the online questionnaire before completing this last cognitive task. The main purpose of this task is to measure the memorability of each scene (4). It consists of a sequence of 16 pairs of images. For each pair, one of the images was taken from one of the explored room, the other image was taken from a room not visited. The participant had to identify which image relates to one of the scenes he had experienced.

Perspective Taking Task – All the views
Perspective Taking Task – Pair 03
Perspective Taking Task – Pair 11

Space Syntax Design Analysis

The design analysis using Space Syntax approach will give us an objective measure of each considered spatial characteristics. By combining both “Isovist” and “Visibility Graph” techniques, we obtain a number of measurands (3). In this case, we will be using the following measurands to represent the best predictor variables for the spatial characteristic considered:

The spatial qualities and their related measurands are :

  • Enclosure: “isovist openness” and “jaggedness”;
  • Complexity : “number of vertices”, “vertex density”, “roundness” and “jaggedness”;

Early Observations

A quick glance at the data shows that participants experienced spatial complexity as intended in the scenes designed with the columns. Their average best performance comes out of the scene with the closest room with columns. However, the feeling of openness doesn’t seem to be related to the number of windows in the room. One explanation for this is most probably because there was a texture on the glass. It wasn’t completely transparent. A participant even said: “I didn’t realize that there were glass panel walls!”
This is just a short intro of the kind of conclusions I am working on. This experiment is bringing plenty of good data to dig into, some with positive results some negatives. I have a few pages to fill with that discussion (check further posts).


References:
  1. Arthur E. Stamps. Mystery, complexity, legibility and coherence: A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(1):1–16, 3 2004
  2. Annemarie S. Dosen and Michael J. Ostwald. Lived space and geometric space: comparing people’s perceptions of spatial enclosure and exposure with metric room properties and isovist measures. Architectural Science Review, 60(1):62–77
  3. Jan M. Wiener and Gerald Franz. Isovists as a Means to Predict Spatial Experience and Behavior. pages 42–57. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2005.
  4. Barbara Tversky and Bridgette Martin Hard. Embodied and disembodied cognition: Spatial perspective-taking. Cognition, 110(1):124–129, 1 2009.

 

Encounter with Jaron Lanier

I had to deal with a difficult dilemma a couple of weeks ago: either being present to my friend Samad’s burial (he has been stabbed to death for his smartphone!) or meeting Jaron Lanier,  one of the fathers of Virtual Reality (he actually coined the term “Virtual Reality”).  Samad was all about giving the opportunity to young people to have access to new technologies. I am sure he would have approved my choice of going to Jaron Lanier’s inspirational talk. Although my heart was with Samad.
The talk was organised by Mel Salter, another VR pioneer, at UCL. My colleagues from the VR field at Goldsmiths were all there as well as many other scientists using VR in their research. The main incentive to organise the talk was to promote Jaron Lanier’s new book “Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality”.
Jaron went on with the talk following his book structure to present his thoughts about the potential of VR with a thesis, an antithesis and a synthesis. As Marco Gillies has written a thorough post on this, I will only give you a brief description.
Thesis:
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Jaron Lanier with the VPL
From his childhood to an idealist young man, Jaron had always thought that natural language felt like a “beta version of communication”. What he saw in VR was an infinite game setup for a “post-Symbolic Communication”. He founded one of the first VR company called VPL in 1980s and made one of the first VR system consisting of a head-mounted display and datagloves.
Antithesis
Growing up, Jaron discovered behaviourism, a branch of psychology studying the potential to modify people behaviour by using devices.  Norbert Wiener, the inventor of cybernetics, was imagining a dystopian future where people’s behavior were programmed by using an interconnected device. Jaron Lanier saw how VR was also the ultimate behaviorist machine. (What Facebook has become today!)
Synthesis
One the one hand, VR is the most natural medium ever created, (all the arts can be done in VR) on the other hand, it has the means of controlling our behaviours.
He suggests that the way to approach this problem is to trust how the young generation adapts to new technologies and will not fall for it. (allusion to the virtual pit experiment)
Random comments:
  • The idea of considering AI more from a human-centered point of view
  • On the difference between education and mind control.
    – education needs practical awareness of what we learn
    – education is an infinite game so that you can adapt what you learn to your own goal, not someone else’s.
  • Human tails: ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars

    Human tails: ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars
  • VR and AR will actually make us more aware of reality, looking at it from a new perspective.
  • Rapid adaptation to non-human body in VR is realy cool. check the human tail experiment
 What an inspiring talk by such an influencer of the Metaverse!

Will WebVR bring us the Metaverse?

The last couple of years have brought us a lot of amazing promises about the future of VR! However, are they really looking at what is important?  How VR will improve people lives,  how can it enhance the way we are communicating and getting access to information? How will VR help us making sense of the overwhelming amount of data produced today?

To reach the mass market, the “useful argument” is fundamental. The first mobile phone (Motorola, 1973) was a gigantic device we could barely carry around, however, it served a purpose that would reach millions of people, it improved vastly the way people communicate.

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Galaxy Game (1971), first coin-operated game.
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Motorola (1973), first mobile phone

New technologies never started with some shiny and all perfect experiences. The first widely available video game  (1971), “Galaxy Game” was displaying just a bunch of squares on a screen. Though the gameplay was fun. Same thing with Minecraft, it doesn’t have to be hyper realistic to bring millions of people building beautiful art pieces with cubes.  Of course, games don’t seem to be useful, although there are fundamental in the way humans learn and communicate with each other.

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Unknow from the web

My take on this matter is that to have a mass adoption of VR, it has to propose the next huge leap to improve communication. For that, it has to happen online, accessible freely to anyone independently of hardware and software. WebVR seems to be the perfect fit for such a revolution.

Metaverse by Taurin Barrera

This idea is nothing new. Jaron Lanier (next post on his recent London talk) was dreaming about this in the 70s when he coined the words “Virtual Reality”. Then William Gibson came up with the “Cyberspace” term in his fiction “Neuromancer” (1984). Today, some are using the term “Metaverse”, thanks to Niel Stephenson’s novel, “Snow Crash” (1992). The main idea is to propose an interconnected persistent computer generated online world within which anyone could potentially access any data and render them in a meaningful manner to him (and everybody else).

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In other words, an open source webVR has just that potential: the ability to grab all sort of information from anywhere on the internet and pull it in a VR experience without any system boundaries.

Looking forward to an open webVR for the future of education.

Follows a collection of articles and tools on webVR:

  • WebVR isn’t sexy, but it will change the game for VR this year. (link)
  • Introducing Matterport VR for webVR (link)

  • Scanlab brings the real world in the computer (link)

  • How Mozilla is Driving WebVR Content & Tooling with the A-Frame Framework (link)

PhD Upgrade Success!

Success!

Celebration time, progress has been made, on 3rd October 2017, I   passed my upgrade.  It took me a while to get there. It took me actually more than 540 hours of mostly writing to be awarded a MPhil (Master of philosophy). I can now work towards obtaining a PhD (Doctor of philosophy).

Follows an extract of this upgrade report to browse a better picture of what I am working on. This is the introduction.

We live in exciting times where technologies developed for the last 50 years are converging. Mobile computers, with the smartphone being the catalyst of those technologies, are spreading into the market faster than any other technology before, reaching almost saturation in western countries. Today, most high end smartphones offers the possibility of basic level of immersion in Virtual Reality. This brings a completely different medium of communication and interaction with our digital environment. We are on the verge of breaking through the frame, the screen, the window… By coming back to a more natural interaction with the digital realm, we have the opportunity to rediscover one of the great humans strength: spatial awarness.

Virtual Reality has been used as a laboratory test environment across many different fields for the last five decades. Cognitive processes such as visuospatial perception, memory, spatial awareness, navigation, are just a few areas of investigation that have been placed under the lens of different types of Virtual Reality systems by the scientific community. Each of those systems comes with various specifications in regards to hardware and software used. Those in return are influencing the quality of computer graphics and human computer interaction implemented which plays a huge role on the level of presence experienced by participants. Besides those variables, Virtual Reality is indeed a very convenient tool in research as most of those variables can potentially be controlled and modified in comparison to “real” world settings where things are more complicated to customise, at least way more expensive.

However, despite the ground breaking works and progress made in those fields, most of those virtual environments contains loads of inconsistencies by design. Those design inconsistencies make it difficult to replicate studies from one lab to another, or even from one study to the next. Comparisons between those studies are difficult due to too many confounding variables. In particular, variables concerning the description of the spatial environment are usually barely described at all. This research will focus on isolating those spatial qualities and evaluating how they affect humans cognitive performances in VR.

Next post will present the architectural side of this project and how it will be implemented.

Let me know if you have any comment on the writing, the comprehension, and/or the content.

Virtual Reality Arcade

Mentioned in an earlier post was the trendy  VR location-based experience or, to bring back a better word, VR Arcade. Don’t you miss those arcade video-games locations where we were meeting our friends or making new ones, and playing hard to get our name at the top of the scoreboard? Must be the reading of “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline that gives me this nostalgia of the 80s.  I would love to see that concept brought back to life to experience VR, AR and all the mixed reality coming along.

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Arcade from the 80s

Why is that the way forward? VR systems are still too expensive for the consumers to buy.  Furthermore, people don’t have enough room at home to really enjoy the full body natural interaction VR systems afford.  Plus, some VR games need specific gears and props that add to the cost. Socially,  experiencing VR  is an enjoyable event: either just by watching someone playing or by joining a team on a quest.  All these issues are being remedied by having a dedicated  VR space to hire.

French cinema company Mk2 proposes an unbeatable access to curated VR content in their dedicate space in Paris.  (mk2VR) They even have a flying simulator to support your body in flying mode.

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mk2VR Paris

The Void is building four locations worldwide as entertainment park for mixed reality experience.

China sees VR also as a huge entertainment destination.  They are making their own head-mounted displays to use in their new VR location-based experience known as SoReal Park.

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SoReal Park in China

On a smaller scale, London has a couple of VR Arcade destinations so far.  The dnaVR proudly announces to be the first London based VR experience. Early this year, we also heard about an OtherworldVRA, though, not sure what happened with this one. I know there is a game bar somewhere in Dalston that runs a couple of VR HMD as well. VRchampions, based in Harrow is not too far with their army of HTC vive VR experiences.

Vive is actually making developers or entrepreneurs lives as easy as can be by encouraging and supporting the community with the Viveport platform for developers on the one hand and the Viveport Arcade on the other.

Now that I am resident at the new Islington Youth Center Soapbox, in Old Street and have a dedicate VR cave,  starting a Virtual Reality Arcade sounds very attractive? What a way to create a double layer of new memories by going to a physical place before exploring virtual environments with your friends?