Geoscience Reference
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The Usability of Online Geographic Virtual
Reality for Urban Planning
Sisi Zhang and Antoni B. Moore
Abstract Virtual reality (VR) technology is starting to become widely and freely
available (for example the online OpenSimulator tool), with potential for use in
3D urban planning and design tasks on a correspondingly widespread scale.
However, rigorous assessment on usability of such tools is needed to ascertain
the likely effect on the profession. A previous study consulted with a small group
of urban professionals, who concluded in a satisfaction usability test that online
VR had potential value as a usable 3D communication and remote marketing tool
but acknowledged that visual quality and geographic accuracy were obstacles to
overcome. This research takes the investigation a significant step further to also
examine the usability aspects of efficiency (how quickly tasks are completed) and
effectiveness (how successfully tasks are completed), relating to OpenSimulator in
an urban planning situation. The comparative study pits a three-dimensional VR
model (with increased graphic fidelity and geographic content to address the feed-
back of the previous study) of a subdivision design (in a Dunedin suburb) against
3D models built with GIS (ArcGIS) and CAD (BricsCAD) tools, two types of
software environment well established in urban professional practice. Urban pro-
fessionals participated in the study by attempting to perform timed tasks correctly
in each of the environments before being asked questions about the technologies
involved and their perceived importance to their professional work. The results
reinforce the positive feedback for VR of the previous study, with the graphical and
geographic data issues being somewhat addressed (though participants stressed the
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