A VIRTUAL REALITY SIMULATION TO IMPROVE CYCLIST'S SAFETY ON THE ROAD
Atlanta is a scary city to bike in. Between the lackluster infrastructure, the cars who always seem to forget that cyclists exist, and the general lack of awareness around cycling rules, a lot of citizens are scared to bike. Our application "Bike Safe VR" is improves cyclist's confidence and knowledge by immersing them in a virtual reality environment in which they are driving a bike in the street. They are placed in scenarios where they have to make decisions similar to those they would have to make in real life, with informative consequences that we hope will have a long-lasting impact on our users.
"Bike Safe VR" started as a class project for our introductory Human-Computer Interaction class at GA Tech. Our team of four wanted to work on a project to help cyclists, but we weren't sure where to start, or what problems they faced. We assumed the largest problem for Atlanta cyclists was getting their bikes stolen. Before acting on our assumptions, we started researching our target users to see if we were correct.
We went to the Atlanta beltline to approach cyclists and ask them directly about their equipment, problems they faced when cycling, etc. Through these semi-structured interviews, we were able to gather a lot of qualitative data.
We also designed and sent out surveys that we shared on multiple social media where we knew we could reach a large large number of Atlanta cyclists. We received a large number of responses (about 200)
ANALYZING THE DATA
After gathering data, we organized it and made sense of it by coding all the answers, creating affinity maps from our interviews and analyzing the results of the survey. We quickly realized while gathering data that our first assumption was erroneous, and the problems cyclists faced quickly started taking shape before our eyes.
SURVEY DATA ANALYSIS
We coded and categorized the quantitative data from the surveys
We coded and mapped the qualitative data we got from our contextual interviews and the more open-ended survey questions
We illustrated the situations described by cyclists to gain a better understanding of the situation
The data analysis led us to identify two main problems around cyclists:
Cyclists and drivers are not aware of all the rules that are supposed to govern their interactions
Drivers often don't notice cyclists
COMING UP WITH IDEAS
We did multiple rounds of Brainstorming, first separately then together. We originally had trouble coming up with "out of the box" ideas as we kept being overly concerned with feasibility, which severely hindered our imagination. Fortunately, one member of our team started coming up with purposefully crazy ideas, such as car-shaped holograms around bikes to improve visibility, and we all managed to be more expressive and imaginative. After as many ideas as we could, we started discussing them all and voting for the ones that got us most excited, and selected the three final ones after some rounds of discussions.
Idea 1 - Top-Down Biking Game Simulation
Increasing cyclist's knowledge of rules through game mechanics
Idea 2 - Virtual Reality Education Application
Provide an Immersive simulation experience through scenarios in a Virtual Reality environment.
Idea 3 - Biking Buddies Application
Encouraging cyclist visibility by encouraging and helping cyclists find other cyclists going to the same destination.
After yet more discussions and some feedback, we decided to go with our second idea, the Virtual Reality Education Application. We realized that the appeal of new technology might incite users to learn, and the the VR environment would provide an immersive enough experience to help the experience be memorable. We started working prototypes.
In the early stages of the project, we researched a lot of material available in articles and online, and one particular website stood out: BicycleSafe.com. Although not aesthetically pleasing, the content and advice available on it was exactly what we needed, and from this content we came up with a scenario to give a clear idea of what the interaction between our system and the user would be.
We divided the project in separate pieces that we prototyped individually. This first prototype was meant to test the validity of our scenario, and to see if the user was learning from it. The prototype is a webpage made using "Twine".
HIGH-FIDELITY APPLICATION WIREFRAMES AND INVISION PROTOTYPE
This prototype was meant to test the menu navigation of scenarios and the user on-boarding, we wanted to make sure the user had sufficient instructions to use the Google Cardboard, and knew what was happening during the rest of the application. We made a prototype using Invision for the users to go through before trying the VR portion of our project.
VR GOOGLE CARDBOARD PROTOTYPE
Finally, we made a Virtual Reality prototype to use with Google Cardboard using the Unity Engine. We used the storyboard made previously to inform the scenarios of this prototype.
TESTING AND FEEDBACK
We ran multiple rounds of testing interviewing one user at a time. We observed them while they were using both our application navigation prototype and our VR prototype, and ask them to fill a pre-test and a post-test questionnaire.
We learned that users were definitely excited at the prospect and experience of trying a VR headset. Most had never tried it before, and spent a lot more time exploring their surroundings than expected.
The feedback on the usefulness of the application as a learning tool was mixed. Although everyone enjoyed the experience, about half of our users did not think that they learnt anything from it. Overall, most thought that it would be best targeted towards beginners or children.
If we were to continue with this project, the intended target audience would have to be refined, and the content curated to fit that audience precisely.
This project was an immense learning experience for all the members of the team, and we are still thinking of ways in which we could keep moving it forward.