Space is the Interface: Evaluating Spatial Knowledge Acquisition in Virtual Reality from the Perspective of Locomotion

Shaoying Tan
SMArchS Thesis, Computation
Advisor: Takehiko Nagakura
Reader: Arvind Satyanarayan

Humans acquire spatial knowledge through sensory integration, which comes from constant interaction with the environment. Locomotion, one of the earliest behaviors developed by infants, are the foundation of many such complex interactions. Similar to what we experience in the physical world, the way we interact with the virtual space plays a crucial role in how we receive the spatial information delivered. In this thesis, I conduct an experimental study on the influence of locomotion interfaces, i.e., motion-based locomotion, joystick-based locomotion, and teleportation, on information-in-context virtual reality experience and acquisition of spatial knowledge. Then through the analysis of experiment results and case studies, I will propose a framework for designing a suitable locomotion interface for different virtual experiences. 

In order to study and reveal the impact of different locomotion technologies, the research project includes a series of experiments in virtual rooms. Different tasks will be developed from three different objectives, to study the following three types of experience in virtual reality: the city wanderer, the book seeker, and the bus traveler.

The results of the experiments are used to analyze the effectiveness of the locomotion interfaces, on use’s acquisition of spatial knowledge the virtual environment intended to convey. Based on the analysis, primary guidelines are derived and applied in case-studies on projects from the MIT Design Heritage Catalogue. The case studies, serving as more complex real-world application scenarios, involves virtual environments of distinct scales and styles. Both the experiments and the case-studies contribute to the proposal of a locomotion design framework for virtual reality experience. In summary, the thesis suggests that the design of the locomotion interface should consider the purpose of the experience and target user groups, and provides insights into how these considerations should be made.