DAF Technology Lab, experiencing Virtual Reality
The DAF Technology Lab provides high-tech facilities for students, researchers, and the business community. The combination of technology and behavioral sciences expertise offers unique possibilities for innovative teaching and research. The DAF Technology Lab consists of two spaces: the Experience Room and the Research Room.
Project Earthrise with the SpaceBuzz Foundation
Nowadays almost every single person can imagine what the Earth looks like from space. The year 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon, and the photograph “Earthrise”, that gave one of the first views of planet Earth outside its atmosphere. To most of us this is just a picture, but to astronauts it is much more than that. It is a reminder of an overwhelming and emotional experience of awe and self-transcendence, of viewing Earth from out in the dark void of Space. It gave these astronauts an increased motivation to protect the planet from pollution and internal destructions, and a feeling of kinship towards all people. This is called the Overview Effect, which recently received renewed interest.
Imagine that more people would go to space, and when they come back, feel the same way as these astronauts do? What would that mean for environmental concerns? Or disputes between divided communities? What if the younger generation would go? And how would this be made feasible with nowadays technology, such as virtual reality (Stepanova, 2019)? This was also the topic of the study this year, performed by Tilburg University in collaboration with SpaceBuzz. SpaceBuzz aims to bring the overview effect to children all over the world, designed a learning experience to recreate the journey of astronauts, and aims to create “Ambassadors of Planet Earth.” Tilburg University is SpaceBuzz’s independent scientific partner, and investigates whether learning through VR is really effective, and whether the Overview Effect is actually achieved. This will elevate the SpaceBuzz program from an entertaining tool, to a valid learning experience. Based on empirical evidence, the program can be modified to be most effective without children realizing that they are participating in education.
In total 233 children (between 9 and 13 years old) from 8 classes in the Tilburg region participated in the study. They first engaged in an educational program at their school where they learned about space, such as satellites and the planets. After successfully completing the first half, children travelled to space under guidance of the Dutch astronaut André Kuipers in virtual reality. They ended their space exploration experience with a debriefing and reflection program. Preliminary results suggest that after the virtual experience children feel a need to protect the planet, and have a feeling of kinship towards others, which doesn't diminish for at least a week after the experience. The children with a higher score for this overview effect also seem to learn more from the virtual experience.
These results motivate follow-up studies. It seems like VR can be used to recreate the overview effect in a wider community. So far it is investigated using subjective questionnaires and self-reports, but can it also be measured from someone’s physiological responses? The DAF Technology Lab at Tilburg University is the new home of a SpaceBuzz segment which will be used for controlled experiments with sensing technology in the near future. Compared to studies with primary school classes, this can be used for more detailed studies where sections of the VR simulation can be investigated in relation to the overview effect and learning.
Virtual reality in the Experience room
In the Experience Room of the DAF Technology Lab, eight projectors deliver razor-sharp 2D or 3D images on all four walls. Groups of up to fifteen people can thus experience an intense level of realism in various virtual environments. Interaction with this virtual reality is achieved by using a remote control. The Experience Room provides a unique collaborative mixed reality environment ideal for collaborative training, teaching, and research opportunities.
Observation and research in the Research Room
The research space contains facilities to observe, register, and analyze data recorded by sensing technologies in the Experience Room, as well as to program new virtual reality situations.
In addition, an ‘Oculus Rift Head-Mounted Display’ is available in the Research Room, allowing for a strictly personal virtual reality experience. While the Experience Room provides a collaborative mixed reality environment, the Head-Mounted Display allows users to have a virtual experience not restricted by walls.
In the Experience Room, students can set to work in a virtual version of their future work environment: a court room, a hospital, or the boardroom of an international company, practicing their presentation or negotiation skills. Furthermore, VR projection is particularly suited to elucidate complicated concepts through visualization, for abstract data visualizations and, for example, to explain the way the brain works by moving around in the brain picking up the various brain areas. This makes knowledge transfer more intensive and hence more effective.
The Experience Room is large enough to accommodate a group of fifteen people, thus creating a mixed reality: the projections on the walls in combination with the physical presence of other people and attributes.
Opportunities for innovative research
Given its virtual and mixed reality opportunities, the lab is also an interesting research space for research. Participants in experiments can be easily exposed to different and unexpected (virtual) situations and (virtual) stressors. Experiencing hazardous situations and responding to those situations is safer and more controllable. Expertise at Tilburg University to analyze data from sensing technologies allows for an insight in user behavior across a variety of (virtual) situations.
The lab is also equipped with sensing technology. It will allow researchers to monitor a whole range of conscious and unconscious reactions in test subjects. What do they look at when exposed to images of a refugee camp? What are their physical reactions?
Cooperation with the business community
The DAF Technology Lab provides unique opportunities for the business community. The expertise in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and behavioral and research methods provides Tilburg University with opportunities for corporate partnerships mapping onto its motto “Understanding Society”. A range of companies have started successful collaborations with researchers at Tilburg University, ranging from topics related to economics and management, law and ethics, behavioral sciences, humanities and information technology.
A philanthropic contribution by the PACCAR Foundation has made the DAF Technology Lab possible.
The DAF Technology Lab has partially been realized due to a contribution of the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.