Virtual reality platform designed for spatial cognition studies

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Byagowi, Ahmad
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In this dissertation, a new method of interaction with virtual reality (VR) has been presented. The VR environment, developed in this work provides a realistic and immersive environment that is developed for studying human’s spatial cognition abilities. Different technical aspects of the implementation are described. To improve the accuracy of the experiments, a new method for comparing and analyzing trajectories has been presented. A set of human subject experiments have been conducted using the developed platform. The first experiment was based on an ordinary computer, a joystick and 40 cognitively healthy participants within the age range of 19 to 82 years. Participants were asked to perform the VR spatial cognition test by navigating in the VR environment. It was found that computer usage skills had an effect on the overall performance of the participants as well as motion sickness; such an effect was undesirable. To resolve both problems, a novel input device made from the combination of a wheelchair and a motion capture unit, called VRNChair was developed. The VRNChair allows the participant to move physically in the real world in order to navigate in the VR environment. This allows participants to have a more intuitive interaction with the VR environment. Since the participant physically experiences the motion seen in the VR, motion sickness is minimized. A test based on two age groups, 34 young (< 40 years) and 20 older (60+ years) participants was performed. The results showed no difference between using the VRNChair or the joystick for the young participants while it showed considerable improvement among the older participants. Furthermore, it was noted that participants became distracted while using the VRNChair, Hence, a head mounted display (HMD) was added to the platform. A test with 14 males showed less distraction to the participant by using the HMD. Overall, the VR environment designed in this work passed all the validation experiments successfully. It offers a novel solution to overcome induced motion sickness experienced as a side effect of VR environments.
Virtual Reality, Spatial Cognition, Game Engine