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Human Factors

Human Factors

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02/13/2013

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Kay M. Stanney
1
UniversityofCentralFloridaDepartment ofIndustrialEngineeringandManagement SystemsOrlando,FL32816
Ronald R. Mourant
NortheasternUniversityDepartment ofIndustrialEngineeringandInformationSystemsBoston,MA
Robert S. Kennedy
RSKAssessments,Inc.Orlando,FL
Human FactorsIssuesinVirtual Environments:
A Review of the Literature
Abstract
Virtualenvironmentsareenvisionedasbeingsystemsthat willenhancethecommuni-cationbetweenhumansandcomputers.Ifvirtualsystemsareto beeffectiveandwellreceivedbytheir users,considerablehuman-factorsresearchneedsto beaccom-plished.Thispaper providesanoverview ofmanyofthesehuman-factorsissues,in-cludinghumanperformanceefficiencyinvirtualworlds(whichislikelyinfluencedbytaskcharacteristics,user characteristics,humansensoryandmotor physiology,multi-modalinteraction,andthepotentialneedfor new designmetaphors);healthandsafetyissues(ofwhichcybersicknessanddeleteriousphysiologicalaftereffectsmayposethemost concern);andthesocialimpact ofthetechnology.Thechallengeseachofthesefactorspresent to theeffectivedesignofvirtualenvironmentsandsystematicapproachesto theresolutionofeachoftheseissuesarediscussed.
1 Introduction
Efforts to apply virtual reality (VR) technology to advance the fields of medicine, engineering, education, design, training, and entertainment are cur-rently underway. The medical profession has expressed its desire to use VR sys-tems as training tools (Stytz, Frieder, & Frieder, 1991); human-factors special-ists are using VR for user-system analysis and design (Scott, 1991); scientists areutilizing VR to visualize complex data (Defanti & Brown, 1991); stock marketanalysts want to use VR to predict market trends and achieve financial gains(Coull & Rotham, 1993); and the military currently uses VR to carry out vir-tual war scenarios and training exercises (Dix, Finlay, Abowd, & Beale, 1993).Interest in this technology is so widespread that the U.S. government asked theNational Research Council to identify and determine U.S. VR research priori-ties (Adam, 1993; Durlach & Mavor, 1995).The reality is, however, that a considerable amount of systematic researchmust be carried out in order for VR to fulfill its potential. Researchers need tofocus significant efforts on addressing a number of human factors issues if VRsystems are to be effective and well received by their users. Perhaps this needwas best articulated by Shneiderman (1992) who stated that ‘‘analyses of VRuser-interface issues may be too sober a process for those who are enjoyingtheir silicon trips, but it may aid in choosing the appropriate applications and
Presence,
Vol.7,No.4,August 1998,
327–351
1998 bythe MassachusettsInstitute of Technology 
1
Requests for reprints should be sent to Kay M. Stanney, University of Central Florida, Depart-ment of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems, Orlando, FL 32816-2450, USA.
Stanneyet al.
327
 
refining the technologies’’ (p. 224). We believe human-factors practitioners can assist in making significant con-tributions to the theoretical understanding of human-virtual environment interaction (HVEI). This paper hasorganized the area of human factors research in virtualenvironments (VEs) into three primary subtopics: hu-man performance efficiency in virtual worlds; health andsafety issues; and potential social implications of VEtechnology. (See Figure 1.) Some of these topics havebeen looked at rather briefly in the past (Thomas & Stu-art, 1992). The objective of the present paper is to pro-vide a comprehensive overview of each of these humanfactors research areas and to provide insight into ap-proaches for their systematic resolution.Designing usable and effective interactive virtualworlds is a new challenge for system developers and hu-man-factors specialists. Due to the close bond betweenthe user and the system within VEs, it may be impossibleto follow past traditions and segregate human factorsfrom design issues when striving to achieve the potentialof VE technology. It is the capabilities and limitations of the user that many times will determine the effectivenessof virtual worlds. (See Figure 2.) An understanding of human-factors issues can thus be used to provide a sys-tematic basis by which to direct future VE research ef-forts aimed at advancing the technology to better meetthe needs of its users. In the following sections, threeprimary areas of human-factors research in VEs will beaddressed, and issues requiring further research will beidentified.
2 Human Performance Efficiencyin Virtual Worlds
Computer speed and functionality, image process-ing, synthetic sound, and tracking mechanisms havebeen joined together to provide realistic virtual worlds.A fundamental advance still required for VEs to be effec-tive is to determine how to maximize the efficiency of human task performance in virtual worlds. In manycases, the task will be to obtain and understand informa-tion portrayed in the virtual environment. As Wann andMon-Williams (1996, p. 845) stated, in such cases ‘‘thegoal is to build (virtual) environments that minimize thelearning required to operate within them, but maximizethe information yield.’’ Maximizing the efficiency of theinformation conveyed in VEs will require developing aset of guiding design principles that enable intuitive andefficient interaction so that users can readily access andcomprehend data. The design approach used for moretraditional simulation systems (e.g., teleoperated sys-tems) was generally ‘‘trial and error’’ due to the paucityof general, non-system-specific design guidelines (Bur-dea & Coiffet, 1994). If VE tasks are designed in suchan ad hoc manner, however, the potential benefits of the
Figure 1.
Areasof human-factorsresearch for virtual environments.
Figure 2.
The human factor in virtual environments.
328
PRESENCE: VOLUME 7, NUMBER 4
 
virtual world, such as enhanced understanding andtransfer of training, may be compromised. While it isdifficult to gauge the importance of the various human-factors issues requiring attention, it is clear that if hu-mans cannot perform efficiently in virtual environments,thereby compromising the effectiveness of the HVEI orthe transfer of training, then further pursuit of this tech-nology may be fruitless.In order to determine the effectiveness of a VE, ameans of assessing human performance efficiency in vir-tual worlds is first required. This is easier said than done.In contrast to past HCI studies, VE performance mea-sures need to focus on more than task outcome to beeffective. Due to the complex nature of HVEI, it may beessential to develop effective multicriteria measures toevaluate human performance in virtual environments.Factors contributing to human performance in VEs pre-dictably include the navigational complexity of the VE,the degree of presence provided by the virtual world,and the users’ performance on benchmark tests. (SeeFigure 3.)If individuals cannot effectively navigate in VEs, thentheir ability to perform required tasks will be severelylimited. Wann and Mon-Williams (1996) have discussedthe edge and object information, as well as the dynamicglobal changes in features and textures that are necessaryto achieve effective navigational performance. Beyonddetermining such design principles that specify the nec-essary cues to support navigation, a designer must deter-mine how a user should move about a virtual world.While some developers have incorporated ‘‘various per-mutations of windowing to allow people to move’’about VEs (Laurel, 1994), newer designs such as por-tals, spirals, sliders, and tow planes hold promise for en-hanced VE interaction. Nilan (1992) has explored themapping of a user’s cognitive space to the design of theVE to enhance navigational performance. Darken andSibert (1996) have developed mediators and modalitiesto assist with VE navigation. These approaches are likelyto achieve varying degrees of success prior to focusingon standard(s) for VE navigation.Due to the current issue of users becoming lost inconsiderably less-complex, hierarchical computer envi-ronments (Sellen & Nicol, 1990), the design and devel-opment of standardized navigational techniques thatassist individuals in maintaining spatial orientationwithin VEs may prove to be one of the most importantissues to resolve in VE design (Darken & Sibert, 1996).Without adequate means of moving about VEs, develop-ers cannot expect to maximize human performance. Onepotential approach to addressing this issue is to developa means of measuring the ‘‘navigational complexity’’ of aVE (i.e., how challenging it is to move from point A topoint B). Such a measure would likely be dependent onthe sensorial cues and spatial mediators (e.g., maps) pro-vided by an environment, as well as on the spatial abilityof the navigator. Navigational complexity likely variesbetween VE designs and even within a given VE, thuspotentially becoming a diagnostic tool for evaluating theeffectiveness of a given VE design (e.g., redesign couldbe directed to areas with high navigational complexity).Mental maps (Siegel, 1981), wayfinding (Vishton &Cutting, 1995), dead reckoning (Gallistel, 1990), hom-ing (Adler, 1971), spatial orientation (Adolfson &Berghage, 1974; Thorndyke & Statz, 1980), time tocollision (Lee, 1976), geographical orientation (Clark &Malone, 1952), and vestibular functions (Howard,1984) are a few of the fields with technical knowledgeregarding the perceptual issues involved with navigationin virtual environments. Most researchers of these aboveareas have not yet adapted their knowledge to virtualenvironments. When they do, the field of perception is
Figure 3.
Componentsof human performance in virtual environments.
Stanneyet al.
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