The objective of this research is to enable more effective design and use of virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are important in many domains, including architecture, education, medicine, simulation, and training. However, when compared to the real world, virtual worlds are hard to move through effectively, and pose challenges to effective navigation. If virtual worlds are going to be widely deployed – particularly for applications in education, training, and simulation – then these problems must be solved. This work will generate essential discoveries improving the process of wayfinding (orienting and navigating from place to place) and locomoting through immersive virtual worlds. It thus provides a critical and synergistic complement to the recent advent of low-cost commodity-level virtual reality equipment.

This research is multi-disciplinary and employs methods from computer science, cognitive science, and geographical information science in accomplishing these objectives. A transformation of wayfinding and navigation for large immersive virtual worlds can be accomplished by studying locomotion modes in conjunction with the spatial characteristics of virtual worlds and individual differences and abilities of the users of the virtual environments. In this work, virtual worlds are described and analyzed in terms of their connectivity, visual access, and integration using formal measures summarized as space syntax. Likewise, individuals traveling through virtual worlds may navigate and reason about space quite differently, and these differences can be quantified and measured. The goal is to develop locomotion modes that take into account both characteristics described by space syntax and individual attributes of users. Truly effective design and use of virtual worlds depend on an understanding of how an individual’s abilities relate to the characteristics of the virtual world and the mechanisms for moving about in them. This interdisciplinary approach examines wayfinding and navigation in a multi-factor way, combining a focus on locomotion modes, a focus on spatial syntax (characteristics) of the virtual world, and a focus on the abilities and differences of individual users. In addition to improving the design and use of virtual worlds, this work will impact multiple disciplines: it not only advances computer graphics and virtual reality, but also informs the fields of cognitive science and geographical information science.