Category Archives: Experiment

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.

 

London VR Meetup Special Education Rocked.

Monday evening was my first VR meetup for developers, special education; right down my alley.  Really dynamic, full of enthusiastic developers and makers, a few exciting demos on the first floor and loads of speakers on the ground floor.  All this in a good old fashion London building, the Hackney House.  This blog will cover mostly my experiences with all the demos I have experienced.

The speaker room

First thing I tried was the full body VR immersion kit. It took some time to adjust all the straps around every main bones. Once calibration is done,  fit the Oculus Rift on your head and there you are looking in the mirror at your avatar,  a character attached to your  body and movements. Despite the lack of space (the casual black environment),  a sense of scale was given by a couple of statues. A few tweaks using UX interface designed by Dr Harry Brenton, and you have a tail, a gigantic arm or an alien head. The level of presence get higher with every step. I can’t wait to have full hand and fingers tracked.

Harry Brenton slide on Character Design

The next experience was a real-time holograph in VR. You get the headset on to meet the holographic projection of someone in Lithuania in real-time. She couldn’t see me, though, I could see her, and talk to her over the phone saying “hello” and she would wave her hands. Not yet like in Ghost in the Shell but it works, telepresence, yes!  However, it would be nice to have a sense of  geographic location in the environment, wouldn’t it?

The most exciting demo was about making VR in VR by Constructive Labs.  Still in an early stage, the demo let you manipulate objects in VR using HTC Vive and controllers like you would use the mouse and keyboard in 3Dsmax or Unity. On top, we were able to do that in interaction with another person. Their idea is to develop a VROS, Virtual Reality Operating system.  Pretty cool stuff! However, again, the environment was really poor. They just used a model of a random brick tower as a gimmick surrounding.

The last demo I tried was more on the interactive storytelling treat made by Bandits Collective. Following the hot panel discussion about 360 video a bit earlier in the evening, I think they nailed it quite well. Their intro for a short movie brings you in a computer generated 360 environment animation based and stylish. It is the environment that make you stay where you are and look where the action happens, though you can check all around and even move. There is no interaction. The action is happening around you. Very promising!

There were a couple of other demos with cardboard and other mobile VR. We know what we get there. I am much more interested with what we don’t know. There is still so much to explore, mostly for me, as you can tell, about spatial environment in VR.   On those four demos, only the 360 story has a designed spatial environment that support the experience.

Virtual Reality Immersion for Christmas.

Over Christmas, my son and I had the opportunity to play around with the HTC Vive. Straightforward to set up, you need at least 2 by 2 meters of free space to enjoy the full range of motion. Overall, that was a couple of weeks of awesomeness. Follows a few lines on the games and experiences we have tried out.
  • “The Lab”: After the tutorial, this is the first place from where you start and learn the trick of the trade of the Vive. The main thing is to get use to moving around by pointing, with one of the controller, a ray of light  on a virtual grid on the floor. Then, pressing the trigger will teleport you to the pointed location. I am not totally convince by this method. It still gives me a kind of thickness and definitely reduce the feeling of presence.

    The Lab – Where you start to use the grid to teleport around
  • “Rec Room” : my son’s favorite. He  played in there for hours. The stranger thing in Rec Room is that you play with strangers; you talk to them like they are just in front of you in the room. Well in a way that’s where they are,  virtually next to you. Then you make a team and go playing a exciting paintball or football game, even though they actually are in another country.

    Rec Room, playing paint ball game with some frenchy.
  • Portal Stories: VR”:  love it, my personal favorite game. Really good adaptation of an already so clever and fun game. A perfect match for the HTC vive. In one sentence, the game is about getting out of a room to the next. It is all about the room. Your living room suddenly develop an infinite potential.

    Portal Stories: VR
  • “Irrational Exuberance: Prologue” : this introduction to a new kind of experience is really well design with subtlety. It starts from a very dark environment with just the title and some strange sphere of energy in your hands. They are encouraging you to use those to follow the sphere that goes along the title itself. Then you start to perceive some pieces of stone floating around. Instinctively, you want to push them away, then they break in smaller pieces. Doing the same movement a bit further, at some point you will hit something bigger which will break as well to bring you a glimpse of the outer space. This is the actual wall that surrounds you. By break the wall, you realise that you are standing inside a meteorite. The experience is very immersive, and taking you to a place you couldn’t have imagine. We want to see more of that!

    Irrational Exuberance: Prologue by Buffalo Vision Immersion:
  •  “Google Earth VR” :  bring you as a giant on earth. It is a fantastic feeling to be able to jump from one city to the next. I loved landing effortlessly at the top of the world on Mount Everest

    Google Earth VR
  •  “Engage” is a Educational Virtual Learning Platform. That is where I get very exited. That is the core of my research project: how can we use this amazing technology to enhance the learning experience, to change education for ever?

    Engage – Main hall with the whale
We tried a few other applications as well like this architectural walkthrough “Bund88” which was not easy to load up probably due to the very quality of the render. However, the experience was so realistic. This is definitely a game changer for the architecture and real estate industry. The Roller coaster just made me sick, no comment. No problem for my son though.

The HTC vive is just one more convincing step towards the development of a new medium with a huge potential not only for entertaining  but more for learning and sharing new skills and knowledge between people all over the world.

I was in those virtual worlds more than two weeks ago and still, I can close my eyes and vividly remember the different environments and interactions I lived then as it was this morning.  We learn through experience. That is what VR is all about. We are barely scratching the surface of this new tool that has the potential to positively impact the world.

Memory Triggers from a Prison.

Under the arche.
Part of my research project is to investigate the way humans perceive and remember their surroundings, from an architectural point of view. Results from the first set of experiment using 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE), see ArchiMemory XP 2.3, brought me some insights on what architectural features are most efficient at enhancing participants memory.
This is typically a top-down approach: by placing architectural elements  (doors, windows, arches …) at specific locations inside a 3DVE, we can use them as triggers or symbols to construct a meaningful journey for the participant. For example, a door is used as a transition from one type of information to another; a window is used as a digression device to give a hint on something else without taking you away from the main subject.
Lets look through that window, for a mo!
 A few month ago, I had the opportunity to work on an important project about syrian’s prison with a special research group in Goldsmiths: Forensic Architecture (FA). I couldn’t say much until the official release of the website we worked on due to the secrecy of the mission. Now that Amnesty International has released the website, I am taking the opportunity to briefly explain  the project in the light of my own research.
Saydnaya's prison - Aerial 3rd floor
Saydnaya’s prison – Aerial 3rd floor

The purpose of this project is to make the public aware of the existence of torture prison in Syria where humans right are baffles everyday. No NGO or any journalist have ever been inside, we don’t have any document, picture or report on this prison. What we do have is a satellite view and a few ex-prisoners testimonies.

Prison's Corridors
Prison’s Corridors

FA investigation started by doing long interviews of those witnesses. Based on their memories, an architect and a sound designer rebuild in real-time a 3D model of the prison. Because prisoners were blindfolded when arriving at the prison, most of their memories are based on sounds, movements and proprioception. Only after a few weeks, they got to their main cell, they were able to see the walls and the other people faces. Even though, sounds were a big part of their memories, my job was to focus on the visuals including 3D models, lights and textures. I will explain more about this in a separate post.

Triggers in Corridors
Triggers in Corridors
Back to the main room.
Working on this project gave me the opportunity to understand my research topic from a bottom-up approach.  In this case, memories are already in participant’s minds. They are vivid and strongly attach to all sort of emotions and perceptions due to the high stress environment where they happend. In a opposite direction as my previous method, here the process was to extract and rebuild those spaces from memory.
Those interviews were a constant demonstration of how memory works. The further we got in the interviews, the more we realised that memory is triggered by details like objects, architectural elements or colors.  Being in a cell with no window or arche, those triggers can take very different shapes. It can be a water pipe with his specific sound, re-purposed as a communication device or a hatch in the door through which the food was coming.
From the truck on arrival.
From the truck on arrival.
Before closing the door.
Even though those two methodologies are very different by essence,  one being to enhance memory, the other being to retrieve information from existing memories, they have a lot of common ground. From a cognitive psychology point of view, the main factor  activating those memories is “trigger”. Either we find them by telling the stories we remember and go in as much details as we can, or we place those triggers along a new journey to create that story.

To have a hint of those prisoners memory, visit the website and explore the 360 panoramas (more about this in next post) here: Saydnaya Project

Testing Oculus DK2 – Leap Motion Virtual Reality Blocks Demo.

Last week, I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift – Leap Motion Demo in Goldsmiths Digital Studio. Here is the set up: with the Oculus Rift on your head,  you stand in the middle of the room, a couple of wire climbing up to the ceiling. There is enough space around you to take a few steps in every directions. A small camera sitting on the front wall will capture the movement of your head  in real time: rotating, tilting and panning. Stick on the face of the Head Mounted Display (HMD) is the Leap Motion sensor which will capture your hands movements in front of you. An ambient music is running in the background for everyone in the room to listen to. Sounds, triggered by your movement as well as your reactive expressions will give any observer present in the room a great incentive to try the device for themself. That’s all they perceive from the outside though.

From your point of view (the participant), it is a very different situation. You are immersed in a simple world made of a grid like grey plane levelled up with your chest and surrounded by a black environment. A variety of solids (3D geometric shapes) like cubes, cuboids and other polyhedra randomly spread on the grid surface will attract your attention. Right in front of you is a little character guiding you through available gestures you can use to interact with those solids. By pinching with both hands, you can create more solids, by opening one hand you are able to point at different shapes to choose from with a finger of your other hand. You can actually interact with all those solids around you, pick them up, build walls or even throw them away. Then,  with both hands flat out, palms up, moving gently up, gravity will go away, and all the polyhedra will float above you. The opposite gesture, palms down, will bring gravity back and all the solids down to the ground.

This interaction makes you feel a sense of power and control over things you can only dream of. By playing for a few minutes, because the interactions with those solids is so subtle, your sense of touch will rapidly becoming more accurate and develop some level of haptic feedback.

So, yes, great experience overall, being able to see your hands in Virtual Reality is definitely adding up to the feeling of immersion. It is not just looking around in a 360 panoramic view. By being able to interact with your environment directly using your hands and moving things around, the sensation of presence in another space is undeniable.