Data That You Can Only Mine from VR | Look On Media

Virtual reality can provide more than a hand-on experience. This new tool can also collect a variety of unique insights. Learn more.

5 Data Insights Unique to Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) equipment that provides immersive experiences also offers a unique and robust data source about the user’s motions. In addition to being used to guide interactive content, these data streams can be analyzed to gain an understanding of how the user experiences and responds to training. Becoming available as part of new VR technology, these data sources can include high-resolution representations of head turning, hand motions and even eye positioning.

Powerful Live Feedback Data Streams

Watching these carefully designed data streams during VR-based training helps training professionals gain new insights into how VR education is received both in general and by each user. It's no longer necessary to test students after each training stage to determine the overall effectiveness of the course; simulation using VR shows in an instant whether the student is learning the necessary behaviors, is distracted or is simply confused.

Helping Training Developers Be More Focused and Effective

Course designers get a gold mine of information about how their work is being received. They can interpret the large amounts of data produced by students and understand an individual’s response to the location of objects, the layout of a test scenario such as a burning building and other individualized spatial interpretation and response situations. Perhaps most importantly, this data can be compared with previous training runs to produce information about in what ways and how quickly the user is learning and adapting to scenarios.


The Five Key Data Insights

There are five specific data insights which VR-based training is uniquely positioned to provide:

1.       Feedback on the placement of objects such as emergency equipment in the VR scenario

2.       Screening of individuals by placing them in realistic work environments

3.       Placing students in simulated dangerous environments for safe practice and evaluation

4.       Simulating environments, dangerous or not, where the student must navigate complex spaces

5.       Tracking data streams reflecting user attention including head position and eye movement

All of these data insights are part of the added value provided by VR-based interactive systems. These systems provide realistic, immersive environments through recorded 360-degree video or computer-generated simulations, allowing the collection of data that wouldn't be realistically possible in the field.

Object placement feedback

A classic use of object placement testing is to determine shelf location for products in a store. Using variations on A/B testing, they determine how quickly people locate their product in two scenarios, then compare the better result with another. With powerful interactive features, VR puts this concept to effective use for room layouts. Quick time-to-object timing based on physiological measures helps place key items such as fire extinguishers and AED cardiac resuscitation devices.

We've put this feedback to use in a test scenario where fire ignites in a small, enclosed space. We used a wind turbine workspace, one that we use for multiple projects. We were able to use VR to present a situation with only a few variables, helping refine our results. We found that people tend to turn away from the fire rather than stop and scan for fire extinguishers, and placing an extinguisher in the exit path gave the greatest chance of quickly finding it. Remember, this test wasn't done in a fire department training facility — it was performed using a VR simulation, simple and convenient.

Screening in realistic work environments

Going up! Inside a VR wind turbine.

Going up! Inside a VR wind turbine.

Job applicants aren't always aware of which job environments they can't tolerate, which can cost time and money during the recruiting process. Instead of finding out on the job, companies can place prospective workers in challenging work environments to test for issues with heights, enclosed spaces and complex, noisy machinery. By using self-reported and biomedical data, the worker's suitability for specific work environments can be tested using simple VR gear.

We used our wind turbine environment VR scenario to test for issues with enclosed spaces. We found 10 individuals who claimed to have no issues with a 100-meter-high working environment. Of those 10, four changed their minds due to either the height or confined workspace of the turbine. Identifying those four early in the hiring and training process would provide significant savings to a company.

Simulated high-risk environments

From submarine disasters to chemical plant fires, there are many environments in which workers have to be ready for a situation and environment that doesn't support live training exercises. VR-based simulations can provide the closest thing to true experience and prepare the worker to react under pressure. Some workers excel in dangerous environments, others may become disoriented, while still others might take unnecessary risks.

Using VR simulations, employers can determine which employees should be chosen for hazardous environments. Through VR-based feedback, workers undergoing training for these environments can be evaluated to see if they are improving in areas such as reaction times under stress and continuing alertness when fatigued.

Navigation of complex spaces

Navigation testing goes beyond worker responses to fear-inducing or hazardous workspaces. It places the person in an environment where they have to explore a space such as a burning building using both decision-making skills to select their route and hazard negotiation to deal with the situations they encounter along the way. In a high-stress environment, quick action is important, and workers need to have an innate ability to trust their choices. They also need to be able to improve their skills through education and VR-based practice.

Our work with "user pathing," the mapping of routes taken through a simulation, won us first prize in an NIST government competition to create a heads-up display (HUD) for first responders to help them navigate challenging environments. Virtual reality technology saves time and costs while keeping test subjects for this technology safe while they provide insights towards the design of the HUD and data from testing the prototype HUD.

Biomechanical user attention tracking

For some subjects using VR, the goal is not to use their senses to engage in training but to diagnose issues with and retrain their senses. Professionals can use VR equipment and biomechanical data to evaluate patients' motions and responses while engaging in conversations, public speaking and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. Variations in these subtle movements can reveal conditions that treatment can improve. In many cases, VR may be a part of the treatment as well as the diagnosis.

These attention-tracking features of VR can also provide a wealth of data in UX (user experience) evaluations, especially for physical spaces. Like the navigation of complex spaces, this visual navigation of carefully designed rooms and other spaces can help provide the optimum aesthetic experience or usability of the space.

We're Just Getting Started with VR-based Data Streams

Technologies to support virtual reality are quickly evolving. The last several years have seen rapid change in the available technologies as VR applications multiply and public interest in personal VR use increases significantly. Complex applications such as the ability of users to walk around in roomscale VR along with hand and whole-body sensors will allow greater interaction and data collection, making these five insights even more powerful.