I started with Virtual Reality from the sideline; I had an idea about setting up an experiment for children in VR, but did not have a clue as how to build it. VR allows for standardized environments which can easily be changed. So the technical people at the University Utrecht began working on a VR app, while I thought about the script and experimental parameters. The first couple of times I put on the VR goggles (Oculus Rift S), I was completely blown away by the experience. VR offers a truly immersive experience that can be utilized for many purposes. For the project I was working on (YOUth study), we planned to use it primarily for PR purposes (the wow-effect for participating children or as a demo for schools). However, VR can certainly be used for research (besides the interesting clinical applications or watching Netflix). Whereas children typically perform tasks on a computer in a labroom, VR allows the researcher to shape the environment in ways that better reflects the influence of real-life factors such as peers cheering the participant on.

As with all techniques, there are many complicating issues with VR. Most importantly: how do you operate/manipulate objects in the VR environment with the hand-controllers which you do not see when you put on the headset? Movement is also an issue: how can you navigate the VR environment in a way that is instantly clear (most participants are new to VR) and not nauseating. How do you convey information? Via written text or a speaking avatar? And how do you get participants to look where you want them to look?

With these and other questions in mind, I began to develop VR apps myself so that I could experience first-hand some of these issues and think about, and try out solutions. Thusfar, I’ve made two apps which can be downloaded below. Currently, I’m working on a VR brain application. And I’m eager to try to integrate 3D 180 degree recordings in a VR environment.

Hardware and software

Oculus Quest 2 Recently, I switched from the Oculus Rift S to the Oculus Quest 2. Great improvement in several ways! [1] Much higher resolution resulting in a sharp picture. [2] Can work stand-alone. You do not need a computer to play apps. [3] Although in beta, you can use your own hands rather than the controllers in the VR environment. This would be ideal to help novice VR users move around and manipulate objects in VR.

Unity Unity is a very accesible software package to generate VR apps. The intergration with Oculus and other VR manufacturers has been improved, so that apps can be view across platforms. Another good software package is the Unreal Engine. Developing VR apps takes a bit more GPU/CPU/memory than simply playing apps or watching Netflix on your headset, someting to consider when thinking about getting into VR.

My VR apps

City appartment
My second app. I built an appartment high in the sky, making people feel frightened when they walk on the balcony and look down. This setup combines a detailed interior (the appartment itself) with a rather extensive exterior (the city, the buildings, the surrounding mountains). Inside are several non-player characters, commonly referred to as NPCs. The zombie will hunt you down and try to kill you, so you have to shoot it with the gun that is provided. The other characters can interact with the player if you approach them. Some of the computers can also be used. Finally, you can go bowling with the three different bowling balls (different physics characteristics) and the green pins.