Understanding Physical Breakdowns in Virtual Reality (CHI Doctoral Consortium 2023)

Virtual Reality (VR) moves away from well-controlled laboratory environments into public and personal spaces. As users are visually disconnected from the physical environment, interacting in an uncontrolled space frequently leads to collisions and raises safety concerns. In my thesis, I investigate this phenomenon which I define as the physical breakdown in VR. The goal is to understand the reasons for physical breakdowns, provide solutions, and explore future mechanisms that could perpetuate safety risks. First, I explored the reasons for physical breakdowns by investigating how people interact with the current VR safety mechanism (e.g., Oculus Guardian). Results show one reason for breaking out of the safety boundary is when interacting with large motions (e.g., swinging arms), the user does not have enough time to react although they see the safety boundary. I proposed a solution, FingerMapper, that maps small-scale finger motions onto virtual arms and hands to enable whole-body virtual arm motions in VR to avoid physical breakdowns. To demonstrate future safety risks, I explored the malicious use of perceptual manipulations (e.g., redirection techniques) in VR, which could deliberately create physical breakdowns without users noticing. Results indicate further open challenges about the cognitive process of how users comprehend their physical environment when they are blindfolded in VR.


Paper is available on ACM.