Using VR and AR to make sense of complex data

Photo by Jérôme Pannetier
Virtual and Augmented Reality has the potential to translate large sets of data into understandable information for companies and governments. A PhD research project clarifies how Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can provide solutions for the presentation of data in Mixed Reality.
At the forefront of research into how VR and AR can ease understanding of large datasets are PhD Fellow Andrea Bravo and the Engineering Systems Design Group at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). In collaboration with Virsabi, they are researching how the presentation of information in virtual environments can improve communication between people. Andrea recently gave a talk at Virtuality Paris on the presentation of information in virtual environments – read about the key takeaways and her research below.

Can you describe the PhD you’re working on? What do you hope to achieve with the research?

Andrea: We are researching the presentation of information in virtual environments, i.e. in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), under which Mixed Reality (MR) also falls. There has been done previous research on analyzing data in VR and AR, but presenting information in VR and AR is an underresearched area. So we set out to study if there is a way to use VR and AR to improve communication about data and make sure that this data is understood correctly. The aim of this is to look at ways in which technology can help and empower people.

We are working with financial data, business consultancy data and statistical data from companies. We are doing case studies, interviewing experts and importantly presenting data to non-specialist audiences to learn what exactly are the problems and challenges, and how can those issues be addressed. We are also doing our utmost to conduct our research in actual contexts of work instead of through experimental setups. We need feedback from real people, in the real world, doing their real jobs.

We hope that the end result will enable us to provide guidelines on how to ensure effective and streamlined presentation of information in VR and AR.

What do you mean, when you say “presentation of information in VR and AR”? What exactly do users see in these virtual environments?

Andrea: We are aiming to communicate data and information in more natural ways by the incorporation of hand gestures. Also by perceiving the information presented in the same “space”, although virtual, as the person you are talking to. This compares to the usual way to present information on a flat static piece of paper or screen. For instance, by using a HoloLens, users in a meeting can have key figures appear and be highlighted right before their eyes during a presentation. This could be a number of sales, profits, etc. – basically any type of data. The visual stimulus can then change according to the narrative of the presenter, making the presentation a lot more engaging.

You could argue that you could just present the same information in a PowerPoint, but how many of us haven’t gotten distracted during a presentation with 30 slides? With VR and AR the degree of engagement increases.

Photo by Jérôme Pannetier

What is it that VR and AR bring to the table that hasn’t been possible before?

Andrea: One of the reasons that VR and AR are so powerful is because it engages people differently. It captures attention in a world full of information, and it allows for focusing that attention at what’s most important. A presentation or meeting comes alive and becomes dynamic.

Imagine being in a meeting and as you’re looking at the speaker, the sales numbers that they mention pop up next to them. Or they could be discussing the development of a new product that you now see before your very eyes, even though the product itself doesn’t exist yet.

Further, this will also make the world of a difference for collaboration in different locations. You and your colleagues could be spread around the world, yet you’re all looking at the same object and have the same point of reference. There is huge potential in this for streamlining communication between people and units.

There is a gap between the people who truly understand the data and the people who act upon that data. With new technologies, we can bridge this gap and make information accessible to more people.

Lastly, who do you think will benefit from this research?

Andrea: There is the potential for this to benefit any company and the research community since it is about effective communication of data. One opportunity is the transference of complex and highly technical information from scientists or specialists to non-specialists, like policymakers, clients or stakeholders.

There is a gap between the people who truly understand the data and the people who act upon that data. With new technologies, we can bridge this gap and make information accessible to more people. If we find a way to present data like financial information or other statistics in a more engaging and compelling way, the people who make decisions may understand the insights that this data provides way better. In the end, this can lead to better decisions to foster improvements for companies, industries, and governments.

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