THE USABILITY OF ONLINE GEOGRAPHIC VIRTUAL REALITY FOR URBAN PLANNING
Keywords: 3D virtual environments, GIS, CAD, urban design, efficiency, effectiveness, satisfaction
Abstract. Virtual reality (VR) technology is starting to become widely and freely available (for example the online OpenSimulator tool), with potential for use in 3D urban planning and design tasks but still needing rigorous assessment to establish this. A previous study consulted with a small group of urban professionals, who concluded in a satisfaction usability test that online VR had potential value as a usable 3D communication and remote marketing tool but acknowledged that visual quality and geographic accuracy were obstacles to overcome. This research takes the investigation a significant step further to also examine the usability aspects of efficiency (how quickly tasks are completed) and effectiveness (how successfully tasks are completed), relating to OpenSimulator in an urban planning situation. The comparative study pits a three-dimensional VR model (with increased graphic fidelity and geographic content to address the feedback of the previous study) of a subdivision design (in a Dunedin suburb) against 3D models built with GIS (ArcGIS) and CAD (BricsCAD) tools, two types of software environment well established in urban professional practice. Urban professionals participated in the study by attempting to perform timed tasks correctly in each of the environments before being asked questions about the technologies involved and their perceived importance to their professional work. The results reinforce the positive feedback for VR of the previous study, with the graphical and geographic data issues being somewhat addressed (though participants stressed the need for accurate and precise object and terrain modification capabilities in VR). Ease-ofuse and associated fastest task completion speed were significant positive outcomes to emerge from the comparison with GIS and CAD, pointing to a strong future for VR in an urban planning context.