Investigating the ways in which virtual environments could influence aircraft passengers' comfort and experiences

Lewis, Laura (2015) Investigating the ways in which virtual environments could influence aircraft passengers' comfort and experiences. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The experience of comfort is an important factor in passengers’ acceptance of transport systems. Comfortable cabin environments can be used as a means to differentiate between aircraft manufacturers and airlines and therefore, may be a key marketing feature. In 2010 and 2011, the European Commission presented its vision for aviation in the year 2050, highlighting the importance of enhancing passengers’ experiences. They also envisaged the use of virtual reality (VR) to provide aircraft passengers with entertainment and a means of ‘escaping from the fast pace of society’. The VR-HYPERSPACE project addressed this vision by examining the use of virtual and mixed reality technologies to enhance passenger comfort on aircraft in the year 2050. This approach to increasing comfort would be comparatively cheaper than changing the physical parameters of an aircraft.

This thesis presents a series of studies which investigated the ways in which two virtual environments (VEs) that were developed for the VR-HYPERSPACE project (one depicting a tropical island and one depicting the view outside of a low-flying aircraft, referred to as the ‘invisible aircraft VE’) could influence potential aircraft passengers’ comfort and experiences. The findings from these studies provide insight into the prospect of using VR to enhance passengers’ comfort and experiences in future flight from a user-centred perspective.

An initial user study was carried out to gain an understanding of the ways in which the two VEs, with various combinations of motion tracking, affected people’s comfort and experiences. The results of this study showed that the VEs have the potential to enhance people’s experiences, for example, by giving them an enhanced perception of space and time. They also might provide people with unique opportunities if used in flight, for example to augment or escape the flight experience. The study identified that motion tracking enhanced the experience of the invisible aircraft VE but detracted from the relaxing nature of the tropical island VE. The findings of this study were used to select combinations of VEs and motion tracking configurations to be taken forward for further investigation.

The initial study also identified that it was difficult to determine the extent to which VEs could enhance comfort when the participants were not exposed to discomfort. Consequently, a new approach to measuring the effect of interventions on discomfort was developed. This involved a workshop and a user study which were carried out to select and test sources of discomfort. Two common sources of discomfort were selected: the sound of a crying baby and restricted legroom. These were used subsequently to induce discomfort in participants in later studies.

The final series of studies aimed to determine the extent to which VEs could distract people from sources of discomfort. The findings indicated that passive VEs could be used to either fully distract people from sources of discomfort or minimise their negative responses. However, the VE used was more effective at distracting people from the discomfort associated with restricted legroom than the sound of a crying baby. The findings indicated that VEs become more distracting when they are interesting and that when exposed to stressful stimuli, relaxing distractors may be beneficial. The findings also indicated that VEs can be used to support existing strategies which people might use to overcome sources of discomfort in present-day flight situations.

This research considered existing research in both the comfort and the pain domains to develop a novel approach to enhancing passenger comfort through the use of VEs. The research showed that VEs have the potential to distract people from sources of discomfort which are commonly experienced in-flight and to enhance potential passengers’ flight experiences. Further investigation is required to understand whether VEs remain effective distractors over longer periods of time, when subject to multiple sources of discomfort and in real-world contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Cobb, S.
Patel, H.
Keywords: Virtual reality in aeronautics, aircraft cabins, human factors
Subjects: T Technology > TL Motor vehicles. Aeronautics. Astronautics
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Engineering
Item ID: 31358
Depositing User: Airey, Ms Valerie
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2016 09:07
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2016 14:39

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