Section: Scientific Foundations
Experiments in Virtual Reality
Understanding interaction between humans is very challenging because it addresses many complex phenomena including perception, decision-making, cognition and social behaviors. Moreover, all these phenomena are difficult to isolate in real situations, it is thus very complex to understand the influence of each of them on the interaction. It is then necessary to find an alternative solution that can standardize the experiments and that allows the modification of only one parameter at a time. Video was first used since the displayed experiment is perfectly repeatible and cut-offs (stop the video at a specific time before its end) allow having temporal information. Nevertheless, the absence of adapted viewpoint and stereoscopic vision does not provide depth information that are very meaningful. Moreover, during video recording session, the real human is acting in front of a camera and not an opponent. The interaction is then not a real interaction between humans.
Virtual Reality (VR) systems allow full standardization of the experimental situations and the complete control of the virtual environment. It is then possible to modify only one parameter at a time and observe its influence on the perception of the immersed subject. VR can then be used to understand what information are picked up to make a decision. Moreover, cut-offs can also be used to obtain temporal information about when these information are picked up. When the subject can moreover react as in real situation, his movement (captured in real time) provides information about his reactions to the modified parameter. Not only is the perception studied, but the complete perception-action loop. Perception and action are indeed coupled and influence each other as suggested by Gibson in 1979.
Finally, VR allows the validation of the virtual human models. Some models are indeed based on the interaction between the virtual character and the other humans, such as a walking model. In that case, there are two ways to validate it. First, they can be compared to real data (e.g. real trajectories of pedestrians). But such data are not always available and are difficult to get. The alternative solution is then to use VR. The validation of the realism of the model is then done by immersing a real subject in a virtual environment in which a virtual character is controlled by the model. Its evaluation is then deduced from how the immersed subject reacts when interacting with the model and how realistic he feels the virtual character is.