There is increasing interest for the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in the field of sustainable transportation and urban development. Even though much has been said about the opportunities of using VR technology to enhance design and involve stakeholders in the process, implementations of VR technology are still limited. To bridge this gap, the urban intelligence team of NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences developed CycleSPEX, a Virtual Reality (VR) simulator for cycling.
CycleSpex enables researchers, planners and policy makers to shape a variety of scenarios around knowledge- and design questions and test their impact on users experiences and behaviour, in this case (potential) cyclists. The impact of infrastructure enhancements as well as changes in the surrounding built environment can be tested, analysed an evaluated. The main advantage for planners and policy makers is that the VR environment enables them to test scenarios ex-ante in a safe and controlled setting.
Secondly a wide range of stakeholders and end-users can participate in a test or research setting. VR technology has the potential to reshape the human touch and involvement in participation and decision making processes in Built Environment. VR Technology enables professionals to use an all senses experience to answer design questions instead of a hypothetical ideal environment phrased in words and static images.
CycleSpex offers a sensory and immersive experience of a displayed environment matching the real world or a future situation using Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Virtual Reality is a simulation of a real world environment, generated through computer software and experienced by the user through a human–machine interface. In the case of the CycleSpex’s set-up a combination of a Head Mounted Display (HMD) like an Oculus or HTC Vive, and a regular bicycle mounted in a bike trainer. The pedaling and steering of the cyclist is translated into a corresponding movement in the virtual environment. Computer simulation enables a user to perform operations on a simulated system and show, log and evaluate the effects in real time.
Current research with CycleSpex is based on experimental design principles. Each participant experiences a selective number of scenario's. After each scenario the participant answers a couple of questions regarding their cycling experience (e.g. comfort, safety, pleasure). To limit the burden on the participants, these questions are answered in- game using head tracking. Furthermore data about cycling behaviour and network performance is logged such as the head movement (head tracking) and GPS-data.
CycleSpex answers research questions on the cycling experience and behaviour related to road design, urban design, greenery and way-finding concepts. Analyzing relations between cyclists on the move and (designed) urban environment will lead to insights into which spatial factors contribute to a better cycling experience. Different urban environments might need a different set of spatial measures to ensure a cycling experience which will lead to a higher bicycle usage worldwide.
Key words: Virtual Reality, Cycling Research, Design Evaluation, Stakeholder Involvement, Innovation, Built Environment, Serious Gaming, Urban Intelligence