Virtual Reality Simulators for Inclusion and Participation: Broadening Perspectives on Accessible Cities and Public Space

Kern, Leyla and Dembski, Fabian and Obst, Thomas and Bisinger, Laura and Falk, Benedikt and Wössner, Uwe (2022) Virtual Reality Simulators for Inclusion and Participation: Broadening Perspectives on Accessible Cities and Public Space. Mobility, Knowledge and Innovation Hubs in Urban and Regional Development. Proceedings of REAL CORP 2022, 27th International Conference on Urban Development, Regional Planning and Information Society. pp. 1025-1031. ISSN 2521-3938

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The design of urban public space often involves a convergence of different actors with different priorities in the use of available space. This becomes evident when different modes of transport are combined in the very limited space available. At the same time, the growing and aging population strengthens demands for action in public space design towards better accessibility and involvement of the vulnerable. Innovations in digital design and simulation tools have shown a great demand to address these challenges as they have the potential to facilitate mediation and improve citizen science, participative and collaborative planning processes. Joint evaluation is supported and planners, decision makers and foremost citizens are brought together [(Yang et al. 2019), (Sanchez-Sepulveda et al. 2019), (Buffel et al. 2012)]. In our research, we have implemented human-computer interfaces for urban digital twins. These digital twins combine geometry and point cloud models, simulation results, and sensor data and enable analysis of existing situations, scenario testing, as well as prediction, on all urban scales, from buildings to cities and regions. By visualization in VR environments such as a CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) they provide a powerful method for informed discussions between all stakeholders which is essential for joint decision-making. Our recent work extends these tools to include often neglected groups, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, or children, with the aim to empower them and to address their specific needs with respect to public spaces, while making these needs more traceable for others. Therefore, we have implemented different modes of traffic in simulators: Cars, bicycles, skateboards, and wheelchairs. Using one of these simulators, users can then interactively explore virtual replicas of public spaces using a real vehicle for steering. In combination with a tracking system, the user’s perspective in the virtual world is adjusted accordingly, enabling an impression of riding through the replica similar as in a real environment. Users can explore the accessibility of public spaces and detect shortcomings like high curbs or slopes. Often, these are unnoticed by pedestrians while posing major obstacles for people in wheelchairs, with strollers or roller walkers. Hence, this simulator helps to better understand and include the mentioned group in public participation. Moreover, the simulator was combined with traffic simulations (Zeile et al. 2021). These, in particular when visualized along with the digital twin, improve the depiction of the actual processes and dynamic scenarios, and allow to simulate and compare scenarios of different design proposals. Bottlenecks such as narrow sidewalks incapable of handling the load of pedestrians, or unclear intersections with an insufficient view can be detected as well as the use of space in certain conditions as during rush hours or at construction sites. Experiments were carried out using the different simulators as human-computer interfaces. Observations and questionnaires were used to analyse the experiences of 23 test subjects. In summary, the developed simulators are intended to contribute to safer and better accessible urban spaces for all. In this initial work, the focus lies on groups with special needs in public spaces - for example, highly mobile young people and in contrast people with limited mobility or the elderly. By detecting current barriers, the developed simulators make them tangible and understandable for the wider public but also for planners, designers, and decision-makers.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Inclusion, Digital Twins, Public Space, Virtual Reality, Mobility
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
Depositing User: The CORP Team
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2022 12:33
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2022 14:19

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