OH!Lab Project: Collaborative Spaces in VR

Role: Lead Prototyper / Time Frame: 5 Months
OH!Lab, Carnegie Mellon University

An Oculus VR headset
Project Brief
The OH Lab logo
Does Virtual Reality have a lasting place in the executive conference room? This was one of the core questions behind the research that I participated in at Carnegie Mellon University with the OH! Lab in Spring of 2021. I served as the prototyping team lead in a multi-term project that sought to determine the benefits of VR in human collaboration, and specifically what benefits could be used in business collaboration. As the prototyping lead it was my job to oversee the creation of 3D assets, which I then imported into the Spatial conferencing app for Oculus Quest. These 3D environments were used in testing with Carnegie Mellon students to determine their efficacy in enhancing collaboration and communication.
Creating Prototypes
My main role as lead prototyper was to oversee the asset creation pipeline and ensure that our strict weekly testing deadlines would be met on schedule. I had a team of four other students who would create 3D scenes in Unity based on a series of prompts provided by the primary investigators (for instance, creating a pirate ship scene so that someone giving a presentation could stand behind the wheel as if they were the captain).

I would take the assets my team made and import them into Maya, often UV mapping them with additional textures or re-sizing them to better fit in the Spatial ecosystem. I then uploaded the prototypes to Spatial rooms and set them up with props so that they would be prepared for testing with live participants.
One of the Prototypes created in Autodesk Maya and
imported into Spatial VR
Learning Spatial
The Spatial logo
Learning to adapt Spatial, a remote conferencing app designed for use in VR, as a research tool provided a lot of unique challenges. I worked with a Primary Investigator and spatial team members themselves to adapt our models so that they could work within Spatial. Often updates would roll out during our testing phases that necessitated a re-construction of rooms from scratch. As many models would import into spatial half-broken or missing textures, many hours of trial and error were needed to make the research succeed.
Testing and Iterating
User-posted image of a puppy
user-posted selfie
Multi-media from users in Spatial testing
User-posted image from browser
Aside from leading the prototyping team I also assisted with testing the spatial rooms on live participants. Our research team worked alongside an undergraduate communications class who gave speeches and conducted exercises in our VR environments. They were later polled for feedback and on occasion interviewed. From their responses we learned that VR held a great deal of potential for furthering collaboration. One scene in particular, modeled after a museum, allowed participants to decorate their spaces with multimedia (images, videos, 3D paintings, etc) and sparked engaging conversation among all participants, who reflected a desire to continue meeting in the virtual space.

The research is currently ongoing at CMU, and the team has pivoted to testing on pairs of participants in more intensive, hour-long sessions. My final weeks in the lab were spent transitioning the next prototyping lead and teaching them the asset pipeline from Unity/Maya to Spatial.
A selection of the Spatial rooms we employed in user testing
While I enjoyed the research aspect of this project, my biggest takeaway was in experience as the leader of a team. Managing each individual’s assignments and making sure the team was on track for deadlines was a challenge in the fast-paced environment of the lab. Additionally, I had my own prototyping responsibilities. My team and I wound up working very well together and we always managed to bring more prototypes to the table than anticipated. Keeping such an efficient process running smoothly was a fun challenge and it taught me a lot about the delicate balance of team management.
Created by Brady Baldwin, 2021