How Important are Physical Motions for Effective Spatial Orientation in VR?

client: Simon Fraser University, iSpace Lab

research field: Spatial Cognition

equipment used: WorldViz Vizard Virtual Reality Software Toolkit, VR headsets, Polhemus Liberty Motion Tracking System and QuikMap


Cognitive Psychology and Spatial Processing

When users attempt to navigate in virtual reality, it is fairly common for them to become disoriented and unable to navigate their environment effectively. This is especially true for first-time users that are not used to moving an avatar with a control stick. This is because there is typically no haptic feedback and no motion cues that physically indicate a user’s point in space. In this study, Daniel and his colleagues investigated how phys­i­cal motion cues con­tribute to spa­tial updat­ing in a real­is­tic and highly struc­tured vir­tual envi­ron­ment, using a rapid point-to-origin par­a­digm with­out per­for­mance feedback. To test this, participants followed a curved street in the virtual environment. Half of the participants were seated in a static chair, and the other half were seated in a mechanical rotating chair that physically imitated their movements. The results showed that physical motion cues may not be necessary in such a detailed environment. When the researchers tested this with a less detailed environment, some participants resorted to real-time mental updating of their direction (identical to how humans in general process grounded reality) and were dubbed “Turners”, while other participants relied on cognitively demanding strategies that took place after-the-fact and were dubbed “Non-Turners”.

Virtual Cognition

Virtual Reality systems can take a variety of different inputs, with joystick navigation and 1:1 movement controls (i.e. movement from grounded reality is translated into virtual reality on a 1:1 scale) being the most popular. In this experiment, participants either used a joystick or 1:1 movement controls to perform tasks associated with navigation, as well as the rotation and translation of objects. Prior studies had suggested that using 1:1 movement controls was more effective than using a joystick for all three tasks. Daniel and his colleagues reinforced these previous results with regards to movement, showing that navigation with the 1:1 controls was more efficient.  However, the results of this study also showed that using the joystick for translation along with the 1:1 movement for rotation was about as effective as using 1:1 for both tasks. From this outcome, Daniel and his colleagues concluded that using a combination of a joystick and 1:1 movement controls could lead to more cost-effective virtual reality solutions without sacrificing effectiveness.