Abstract

The ability to accurately estimate distance is an essential component of navigating large-scale spaces. Although the factors that influence distance estimation have been a topic of research in real-world environments for decades and are well known, research on distance estimation in virtual environments (VEs) has only just begun. Initial investigations of distance estimation in VEs suggest that observers are less accurate in estimating distance in VEs than in the real world (Lampton et al., 1995). Factors influencing distance estimates may be divided into those affecting perceived distance (visual cues only) and those affecting traversed distance to include visual, cognitive, and proprioceptive cues. To assess the contribution of the various distance cues in VEs, two experiments were conducted. The first required a static observer to estimate the distance to a cylinder placed at various points along a 130-foot hallway. This experiment examined the effects of floor texture, floor pattern, and object size on distance estimates in a VE. The second experiment required a moving observer to estimate route segment distances and total route distances along four routes, each totaling 1210 feet. This experiment assessed the effects of movement method, movement speed, compensatory cues, and wall texture density. Results indicate that observers underestimate distances both in VEs and in the real world, but the underestimates are more extreme in VEs. Texture did not reliably affect the distance estimates, providing no compensation for the gross underestimates of distance in VE. Traversing a distance improves the ability to estimate that distance, but more natural means of moving via a treadmill do not necessarily improve distance estimates over traditional methods of moving in VE (e.g., using a joystick). The addition of compensatory cues (tone every 10 feet traversed on alternate route segments) improves VE distance estimation to almost perfect performance.

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