When Fjord's designers first teamed up to put virtual reality (VR) to test, they started with a question: How can the computer-generated simulation of a 3D (three-dimensional) image promote empathy to help people to be more vigilant of unusual situations?
Taking inspiration from Jason DaSilva’s accessibility map and documentary film When I Walk, which revolves around his jaunt after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the designers utilized their prompt as a springboard to conjure up solutions for people with wheelchairs.
Their instructions panned out only after several user research interviews. The team's directive was to create a virtual reality experience to support first-time wheelchair users to get the knack of safely navigating the world on their first day.
The Wheelchair Training Program model that emerged out of the process encompassed a couple of components including:
1) A 3D, virtual Metropolitan backdrop that triggers the everyday spatial negotiation tasks and navigation-related challenges that a new wheelchair user is likely to encounter, acquainted with information gathered from forums, interviews, and a slew of other online resources for usable design.
2) The second component comprises an immobile wheelchair that features freely moving wheels that are equipped with tailor-made motion-tracking sensors.
After sitting in the wheelchair the user wears a VR headset. As the wheelchair user swivels and steers the wheels, the sensor transmits the action to the simulator in order to spruce up the virtual surrounding in real-time.
With this, the user can rehearse assessing spatial relationships, steering, and finding a way through traffic flow and passerby.
The designers took extra care to ensure they do not end up gamifying the experience in any which way. “When you turn something into a game it actually does the opposite of empathy,” Fjord's design strategy executive John Jones said.
According to Jones, changing something into a game deprecates the experience, and that's not what they intended to do.
” The team focused less on rendering realistic visual details—keeping the 3D model “light, bright, and airy,” Jones added.
While the basic system of moving around the space is already there, the designing team has not ceased enhancing the simulation, adding sensations such as moving up and moving down hills, going over bumps, and braking.
Accenture-owned Fjord is a global management consulting and professional services company and it looks forward to collaborating with various clients to test the effectiveness of the training program before bringing the technology to the market.
Veterans Affairs (VA) along with some of Fjord's healthcare clients and a few New York-based hospitals has shown interest, Jones said.
The company also pays attention to opportunities for the device to bring the wheelchair experience to those who do not use a wheelchair.
Lining with this, Fjord had some discussions with a company that operates cruise ships about possibly using it in their design process.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but if this comes to fruition, architects will actually be able to experience their design to know what it would be like for a wheelchair user.
(Image Credits: Accenture Digital/YouTube)