Dr. Alexander Erath – Bike to the future: using Virtual Reality to study mobility behaviour

  • Date:

Principal Investigator of Engaging Mobility & Co-PI of Cognition, Perception, and Behaviour in Urban Environments

Bike to the future: using Virtual Reality to study mobility behaviour

Tuesday 9 May 2017


The opening of new infrastructure can open windows of opportunity for longitudinal studies to assess impact of built environment on mode choice. However, experimental variation is limited to how the new infrastructure has actually been built. Conducting stated preference surveys to understand the perception of various street design options and potential impact on behaviour based on photos or videos from existing infrastructure only can be too restrictive. Not only such an approach would need to restrict to infrastructure options that already exist, but depending on the type of application, it might also not cover important dimensions of perception and hence behavioural reactions.

Using Virtual Environments (VE) is a well-established methodology in the field of cognitive psychology. Although there are several limitations in VE, such as lower resolution, less realism and often no auditory, tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular cues, VE experiments have successfully been conducted in various fields of cognitive studies. Recent advances in computer graphics and lowered barriers to entry into the field of gaming has opened new opportunities to generate realistic 3D scenarios that are suitable for behavioural studies.

In this talk, Alex will provide first hand insights from an ongoing, exploratory research project on using Virtual Reality (VR) to study mobility behaviour using cycling as a case study. The talk will cover the nuts and bolts of creating an immersive Virtual Reality experiment platform by exploring how to combine various software tools to generate VE and to upgrade a simple cycling trainer to a VR simulator using customised sensors and commercially available head mounted displays. In addition, Alex will present the findings from the first experiment which aimed to understand how VR can help participants to state the influence of future infrastructure on their mobility behaviour and to explore the added value of VR as a communication and public engagement tool. The talk will conclude with a critical review of the experiences so far to use VR as a research tool of and an assessment of future research areas that might be relevant to study using VR applications.