The objective of this research is to enable more effective design and use of virtual worlds. The pervasiveness of visually-oriented online and interactive digital media allows people to represent themselves increasingly through surrogates in virtual worlds. These digital personae are called "avatars," and when they closely represent the user, "self-avatars." Self-avatars enable forms of learning, interaction, and skill development that can increase a user's effectiveness in a virtual world. This project will explore how self-avatars play a significant role through three key components of perception and action: the relationship between action and the perception of space and objects, active acquisition of spatial memory, and the planning and execution of actions themselves.
This research will consider three properties of self-avatars themselves, each likely to have an effect across a broad range of situations: (1) the virtual perspective from which the avatar is seen, (2) the nature of the coupling between user size and motion and avatar size and motion, and (3) the naturalness of the interface system by which the user controls the avatar. The work builds on a growing body of knowledge about the role of body ownership in perceptual and cognitive tasks. This framework provides a theory in which to ground the research, a body of empirical knowledge about perception and action in the real world, and established methodologies that can be used for assessing the results of the research. The ability to utilize work from cognitive and perceptual science to solve a problem in computer graphics and user interaction is a major strength of the research.
Virtual environments are important in many domains, including architecture, education, medicine, simulation, training, and visualization. The core impact of this research is to enable self-avatars to enhance user experience in virtual environments, which are a major category of computer simulations. A broad impact of this project is that enhancing the user experience will lead to more capable applications of virtual environments in the aforementioned domains. This research will also have utility in entertainment systems, the dominant environments for avatars. It advances discovery and understanding while training students in cross-disciplinary research methods in an innovative intellectual environment. The interdisciplinary nature of the research and its consequent applications, together with the close integration of two research groups, will aid in bringing new students to computer science, beyond the students traditionally attracted to that field.