Written by IEEE | February 5, 2018 | Updated: May 11, 2018
When using immersive virtual reality systems, people tend to walk between points as they would in the real world, despite the fact that they don’t necessarily need to. A new study published by IEEE from the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. investigates this phenomenon.
Using an open-plan room, the researchers allowed participants to walk naturally between assigned points in the physical space. Textures were added to the room to simulate grass, rocks, water and ice. Digital versions were added to a VR replica of the room. Users were then instructed to walk between the same points virtually.
Ultimately, the researchers found little statistical difference between the way users moved around in the real-world scenario and the replica, other than how fast they moved (they were slower in the VR replica).
Said the researchers, “The behaviour of participants who choose to adhere to the visual stimuli can be traced to two main motivations: routine behaviour learnt in past real life situations, and fear of adverse consequences.” So, “Participants who decided to walk around the pond, even though that would have increased the length of their route, did so because they were unsure of what would happen if they walked over it.”
Despite participants saying they often didn’t feel “present” in the virtual environment, confusing what was supposed to be ice with sand, “the fear of the potential negative consequences was strong enough to overcome their awareness of the illusion.”
This work has implications that can help improve the believability of the VR experience. Since aesthetics are sufficient to shape the paths users take in a VR environment, designers can employ barriers like hallways, windows and cliffs to minimize the number of situations that bring into question the authenticity of the experience.
As headsets and graphics engines improve, the VR simulation will continue to get better. In the meantime, aside from avoiding questionable situations, contextual clues like showing cracks in ice when a user steps on it can help maintain a coherent experience.
Further implications might also lie in the use of physical objects in the VR room. The combination of immaterial and tangible objects reinforced the illusion that they might all really be tangible, meaning that a few well-thought-out props could go a long way.