Virtual reality can assist with the evaluation of future transport concepts

Metastudie Raumpsychologie für eine neue Arbeitswelt

 

A new study from Fraunhofer IAO presents the results of a VR-based method for forecasting new technology and evaluating the acceptance of future urban transport concepts

In a multimedia project – “2049: Zeitreise Mobilität” – conducted together with the German regional broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk, Fraunhofer IAO has used virtual reality to send test persons on a journey through time to German and U.S. cities in the year 2049. The concluding study shows which future transport concepts meet with acceptance and are regarded as realistic. When it comes to tomorrow’s transport, however, different generations do not always agree on which attributes are most desirable.

How do we want to get about town in the future? And what kind of transport will be available? How will this change the look and feel of urban life? Can we even imagine what kind of changes might come? Our requirements with regard to transport have shifted in recent years – as have the challenges we now need to overcome. Factors such as climate change, the growing volume of traffic, technological advances and social values all have an influence on what modes of transport are available, the types of journey on offer and our own patterns of usage.

Technology can help us answer these complex questions. By using virtual reality (VR), for example, we can make visions of the future more intuitive and thereby more easily accessible, especially those that are highly abstract and difficult to imagine in spatial terms. In a joint project – “2049: Zeitreise Mobilität” – with the German regional broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO therefore opted to use an interactive VR film to investigate people’s future transport requirements. The purpose of the project was to determine the degree of acceptance of future transport concepts across a broad, international base. Equipped with a VR headset, test persons embarked on a journey through time to real cities in Germany and the USA in the year 2049, where they were asked to evaluate future transport scenarios. The VR survey ran from May to October 2019 and was conducted at a variety of events in each country. The follow-up study presents not only a summary of the results of the survey but also new findings on the use of VR as a means of investigating the acceptance of new technologies.

Zero-emissions transport is a key factor for all generations

To facilitate a clear evaluation of the quantitative survey, participants were classified according to five generations, ranging from “Traditionals” – those born before 1955 – to Generation Z – those born in 1995 or later. The table below lists the five most desirable attributes specified by each group in relation to future transport. Strikingly, zero-emissions is the top attribute across all generations except for Generation Z. Although this attribute is also significant for this group, there is an even greater need for safety on the part of this generation. In fact, safety and flexibility are both attributes broadly favored by all respondents. But whereas the two younger generations place a priority on speed as a desirable attribute, none of the other three generations find room for this in their top five. Conversely, all three prioritize user-friendliness, an attribute that is seldom mentioned by the two younger generations.

Fig. 1: The top 5 ranking shows the percentage of respondents from each generation that opted for a specific attribute. Each respondent was asked to specify up to three attributes.
© expanding focus GmbH

Fig. 1: The top 5 ranking shows the percentage of respondents from each generation that opted for a specific attribute. Each respondent was asked to specify up to three attributes.

Virtual reality proves to be an important means of knowledge transfer in surveys of user acceptance

Fraunhofer IAO was responsible for the scientific supervision of the study with test persons, for which two different survey methods were combined. Around 1600 respondents took part in the online and VR-based quantitative survey. The results show that the respondents who took part in the VR-based survey had a substantial advantage in terms of information. In the survey, respondents who had previously been shown VR scenarios were able to answer complex questions on average 30 percent faster than those who merely took part in a comparable online survey without a VR component. The qualitative survey was conducted with selected German and U.S. experts from the transport sector.

At the same time, the VR-based survey method has proved to be a useful tool of communication and knowledge transfer between the scientific community and users. As Patrick Ruess, a researcher at Fraunhofer IAO, explains: “We can use VR to make abstract or theoretical concepts more accessible to test persons, whether these are experts or laypersons. Everyone experiences the scenario in an intuitive way, since it engages the emotions in an intense but fun way. You can therefore say immediately if a scenario appeals or not, regardless of whether you already know something about it.” And from a research point of view, VR has shown itself to be a suitable tool for gathering user opinions and may well establish itself as a new method for evaluating the acceptance of new technologies and future scenarios.