Usability testing of buildings using Virtual Reality

How can one determine whether a future space will be organized in such a way that staff do not interfere with one another during an emergency situation? Using virtual reality (VR) two students have investigated whether it is possible to test collaborative situations in buildings, and apply the results during the architect’s design phase.

While building plans may look great on paper, they may not perform quite as well in practice. Unfortunately, these failures are often noticed only after a building is up and comes into use.

Mark Wulff and Mathias Schmidt Petræus, two computer science graduates from University of Copenhagen, have addressed this problem in their master thesis. While virtual reality is already used to experience building plans prior to construction, the two graduate students have examined whether VR can be deployed to test plans within the context of challenging situations. This will make it possible to evaluate how well blueprints support human collaboration in Denmark’s ‘super hospitals’ of the future.

They simulated cardiac arrest scenarios in which up to 8-10 individuals need to coordinate work and equipment in a virtual space, and did it within a digital 3D model of the future New North Zealand Hospital. The idea is to create a realistic experience using the 3D model that allows participants to interact with game characters and equipment before construction:

“For us, actively using VR as a communication and planning tool is a natural part of something as complex as hospital construction. This is valuable for contractors, in relation to their familiarity with structures, as well as to hospital staff, in relation to their specific workflows. It is exciting for us to chart the possibilities with regards to specific hospital spaces that need to function with numerous and changing workflows among various groups of staff, particularly in acute situations. We are delighted to learn from this exciting research project,” says Project Director for New Hospital North Zealand, Henry Schødts. He adds that it will be exciting for the new hospital to see how VR contributes to good work processes among employees and ultimately, to meaningful patient experiences.

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