immersive virtual environments: experiments on impacting design

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  • N. Gu, S. Watanabe, H. Erhan, M. Hank Haeusler, W. Huang, R. Sosa (eds.), Rethinking Comprehensive Design: Speculative Counterculture, Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia CAADRIA 2014, 729738. 2014, The Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia (CAADRIA), Hong Kong


    ARSALAN HEYDARIAN1, JOAO P. CARNEIRO2, DAVID GERBER3, BURCIN BECERIK-GERBER4, TIMOTHY HAYES5 and WENDY WOOD6 1,2,3,4 University of Southern California, Los Angeles, United States {heydaria, jcarneir, dgerber, becerik, hayest, wendy.wood}

    Abstract. This research prefaces the need for engaging with end-users in early stages of design as means to achieve higher performing de-signs with an increased certainty for end-user satisfaction. While the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) community has previously used virtual reality, the primary use has been for coordina-tion and visualization of Building Information Models (BIM). This work builds upon the value of use of virtual environments in AEC processes but asks the research question "how can we better test and measure design alternatives through the integration of immersive vir-tual reality into our digital and physical mock up workflows? " The work is predicated on the need for design exploration through associa-tive parametric design models, as well as, testing and measuring de-sign alternatives with human subjects. The paper focuses on immer-sive virtual environments (IVEs) and presents a literature review of the use of virtual environments for integrating end-user feedback dur-ing the design stage. In a controlled pilot experiment, the authors find that human participants perform similarly in IVE and the physical en-vironment in everyday tasks. The participants indicated they felt a strong sense of "presence" in IVE. In the future, the authors plan on using IVE to explore the integration of multi agent systems to impact building design performance and occupant satisfaction.

    Keywords. Virtual Reality; Prototyping; Design Technology; Immer-sive Virtual Environments; Feedback.


    1. Introduction

    Making design adjustments earlier in a projects life cycle reduces the over-all cost of the project (Eastman, 2008). Design adjustments can be better in-formed by involving end-users early during the design phase of a project in order to meet their expectations and deliver high quality products. However, due to lack of time and a growing number of parties involved in design and construction phases, end-user involvement is usually minimized (Oijevaar et al, 2009). Recently, the use of augmented reality (integrating virtual and simulated information with physical environments), virtual reality (comput-er-simulated environment that can simulate a physical presence through cre-ating a visualization of a real or imaginary environment), and immersive vir-tual environments (IVE allowing user interactivity and immersion within virtual environments to provide a feeling of presence) has increased in dif-ferent domains. In this paper, the authors examine if IVEs can be used as a cost-effective tool to involve end-users during the design phase of a project. In order to examine this, human performance on routine tasks in a physical environment were compared to the performance in an identical IVE (e.g., same room size, objects, lighting). By proving that humans perform similarly in both environments, designers can use end users feedback from virtual environments effectively in making decisions about design alternatives for physical environments.

    In this paper, the authors explore the use of IVEs for an office space by (1) evaluating the end-users sense of presence within an IVE through ques-tionnaires; and (2) comparing human performance on a set of identical tasks in a virtual design alternative and a physical environment with same archi-tectural settings. These alternatives were created through a custom workflow that translates the design intent from an associative parametric BIM tool to an IVE, in which the geometry, lighting, and coupled configurations of these environments were modified. After completing the assigned tasks, partici-pants filled out questionnaires, measuring the realism of the virtual environ-ment, and user experience in performing the assigned tasks, and users sense of presence.

    2. Background

    In the past two decades, the use of virtual reality has increased in various domains, such as in education (Bailenson et al, 2008; Wagner et al, 2013), the military (Psotka, 1995), and various medical fields (Johnsen et al, 2005). The AEC industry, an industry that relies significantly on visual communica-tion, has also made its transition in to adopting the use of virtual reality in the past decade (Kim et al, 2013).


    With the advent of virtual and augmented reality along with the advances in the field of human-computer interaction, AEC professionals have the op-portunity to bring their design alternatives into IVEs for evaluating them in a coupled fashion with end-user feedback (Maldovan et al, 2006). To involve end-users in the design phase, (Dunston et al, 2007) brought healthcare or-ganization end-users (e.g., doctors, nurses, etc.) into an IVE in order to eval-uate the proposed design of a new hospital. Previous research has suggested that IVEs can reduce the amount of time needed to modify designs, provide detailed information about a potential design to the reviewers, and improve the communication between owners, architects, and engineers (Majumdar et al, 2006; Maldovan et al, 2006). These environments can be utilized as a new approach for involving end-users by combining the strengths of pre-construction mock-ups and BIM models (Bardram et al, 2002; Dunston et al, 2007); they can provide the sense of presence found in physical mock-ups and make evaluation of numerous potential design alternatives possible in a timely and cost-efficient manner (Shiratuddin et al, 2004; Chan and Weng, 2005; Eastman, 2008). Additionally, such immersive environments can po-tentially be used as a tool for building designers and engineers to study end-user behaviour and satisfaction within a design alternative.

    To confirm if IVEs are adequate for analysing and comparing design al-ternatives, it is important to study users performance within such environ-ments and compare it to the real-world settings. Prior research has shown that IVEs can be used effectively to measure performance, such as in exam-ining behavioural compliance to different emergency exit cues (Duarte et al, 2013). Additionally, other research has examined how perception of statues varies within IVE, physical environments, and augmented reality (Huang and Wang, 2008). However, there is a need to further examine how perfor-mance in everyday tasks in IVE compares to physical environments when features of the design alternative are changed (e.g., lighting, geometry).

    3. Methodology

    The authors of this paper examine whether end-users performances on daily office related tasks (e.g., reading, writing, communication, etc.) differ be-tween an immersive virtual office environment and a physical office envi-ronment. To evaluate if an IVE is an adequate representation of a physical environment, specifically two parameters were measured: (1) user perfor-mance when given simple tasks, such as reading a passage; and (2) user per-ception of colour and brightness by identifying coloured objects in the room. These parameters were measured based on the speed and accuracy of the


    performed tasks to determine whether IVE has any negative effects on users vision and performance on the given tasks.


    An identical 3D virtual model of an office room at the University of South-ern California with the same dimensions and objects (e.g., desk, bookshelf, chairs, etc.) was created (Figure 1). The physical office environment had a window for natural light and four available lighting settings: (1) no light bulbs on, (2) two lights bulbs on, (3) four light bulbs on, and (4) 6 light bulbs on. Previous research has suggested that different lighting conditions and variations in illuminance level and colour may influence interpersonal be-haviour and human performance on tasks that are primarily cognitive in na-ture (Baron et al, 1992). Therefore, lighting settings two and four were se-lected for representing dark and bright conditions of the room, respectively. Two 3D virtual models were created based on these two conditions (i.e., dark and bright). The experiments in the physical environment also used two conditions of the physical room: dark and bright. Participants were asked to perform similar tasks that measured their performance and perception in all four environments.

    Figure 1. Photos of the physical environment (left) and virtual models of the physical envi-ronment (right), representing the two conditions

    The changes () in performance for speed and accuracy were then deter-mined within each environment (e.g., between the bright and dark condi-tions in the physical environment and between the bright and dark conditions in the virtual environment). The user performance between the two environ-ments was compared by determining if there was any difference between the for the physical environment and the for the virtual environment.


    As shown in figure 2, rooms a and a are considered for the dark rooms and b and b are considered for the bright rooms for the physical environ-ment and virtual environment, respectively. The