B. Olney, B. Nisha

University of Sheffield (UNITED KINGDOM)
Virtual reality (VR) during the 20th Century, promised high grade consumer technology that would change our human-computer interactions in fundamental ways. This promise was never truly realised as the technology did not hit the mark of expectation. Over the last couple of years interest in virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) has seen a resurgence, with renewed interest and investment coming to market. We have seen very quickly, the development and production of new VR head mounted display (HMD) units such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and, as mobile technology progresses as speed, the fusion of mobile technology and VR/AR such as the Samsung Gear and Apple ARKit. Could this be Virtual Reality’s moment come to pass?

The accessibility of VR and AR technology is making it more appealing to commercial organisations in the built environment industries; with visualisations that can improve stakeholders’ understanding of design changes cost savings, that far outstrip the investment in technology, can be made. With an increased interest in this technology from industry, educators have a responsibility to ensure students have a critical view of its application as they are increasingly more likely to come across its use in the workplace.

Funded through the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst programme, the Department for Urban Studies & Planning at the University of Sheffield (UK) is working with its cohort of postgraduate Urban Design students to experiment with the use of VR and AR technologies in the pursuit of improved engagement, learning and employability outcomes.

The primary hypothesis of the paper is that virtual reality offers the Urban Design student a micro, ego-centric view of their design in contrast to the macro allo-centric view offered by the design software displayed on a desktop PC. The ability to view their designs from a first person, ego-centric viewpoint enables improved empathy with those who will use the environment in its intended form. Students’ design software skills, in addition to their design competence, is enhanced by improved spatial cognition, realised through their development and use of virtual reality visualisations.

This paper examines the technology in question, its role in the urban design curriculum and the value it plays in preparing students to be contribution-rich actors in a 21st Century built environment industry. Sharing early feedback from students' own experiences with the technology and their views on its role and value, the paper will seek to provide an overview of the project, which sees its conclusion in March 2018, delivered so far.

The poster presents curated digital artefacts collected during the delivery of the project using the augmented reality technologies deployed with students during the course of the innovation. Participants will be able to interact with the poster to reveal layers of video, written-word, text and social media content which provide a rich narrative to the unfolding of this 18 month project.