Is it Live or is it Memorex?

One of the organizations that is at the leading edge of immersive virtual reality research and development is Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL). On their site ( they describe their mission as:

The mission of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab is to understand the dynamics and implications of interactions among people in immersive virtual reality simulations (VR), and other forms of human digital representations in media, communication systems, and games. Researchers in the lab are most concerned with understanding the social interaction that occurs within the confines of VR, and the majority of our work is centered on using empirical, behavioral science methodologies to explore people as they interact in these digital worlds. However, oftentimes it is necessary to develop new gesture tracking systems, three-dimensional modeling techniques, or agent-behavior algorithms in order to answer these basic social questions. Consequently, we also engage in research geared towards developing new ways to produce these VR simulations.

Our research programs tend to fall under one of three larger questions:

1. What new social issues arise from the use of immersive VR communication systems?

2. How can VR be used as a basic research tool to study the nuances of face-to-face interaction?

3. How can VR be applied to improve everyday life, such as legal practices, and communications systems.

There are many fascinating potential applications. One example is what they term “Transformed Social Interaction (TSI).” For example, “in a collaborative virtual environment, a presenter can program their digital avatar to maintain eye contact with every person in the audience at the same time. Because each member of the audience has their own view of the world, they would each think that the presenter was indeed looking at them all the time even though there are in fact many different versions of “reality” co-occurring at the same time. Since every user sees their own version of the virtual space, different users could be in different or exactly the same spatial setting. For example, in a virtual classroom, every student could sit right in front of the teacher.” The possibilities for re-thinking teaching and communication with large numbers of people are exciting.

Another application is Learning in Immersive Virtual Reality. Stanford, in collaboration with Berkeley’s CITRUS lab are exploring how

immersive virtual reality extends the benefits of video learning, allowing the user to enter the same world as the teacher. First, immersive settings allow users to see in full three dimensions, greatly increasing detail, presence (i.e., learners feel psychologically as if they are in the digital learning environment, as opposed to the physical space) and social presence (i.e., they feel as if the digital reconstruction of the instructor is a real person).

Second, as opposed to stationary video, immersive virtual settings allow users to control how they view the environment by allowing them to change aspects such as camera position and orientation, even allowing a disconnect between their own representation and their point of view in real-time.

Third, video settings only allow users to watch the instructor; immersive virtual reality allows the user to interact with the instructor and the environment, as well as to perform novel functions such as sharing body space with the instructor during learning. In the first experiment completed using this paradigm, we demonstrated, via subjective self-report of the learners as well as more objective measures involving expert coder ratings of learners performing the tai chi moves later on in physical space, that people learned more in the immersive virtual reality system than in the 2D video system.

This past week I was conducting a session on process excellence. The possibility of taking the participants into a virtual 3D space together that depicted an “unlean” process and then to physically experience the benefit of applying lean process techniques to the situation (such as moving process steps into cells, using kanban cards etc.) is exciting. In the past I have used various exercises and even life-size styrofoam and cardboard mock-ups of process layouts to help people experience the “before” and “after” but VR introduces entirely new possibilities of complexity and realism.

Performance improvement practitioners should stay tuned to these developments.

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