Today, every aircraft passenger realises the importance of space in the interior of a cabin, a feeling which might be mainly mediated by the available space in the respective seat and around oneself. However, it is not well understood how the perception of space around oneself is affected by different visual cues. Therefore, researchers at the MPI are investigating how visual space is perceived using state-of-the-art virtual reality equipment paired with psychophysical methods. The gained understanding of the underlying principles of space and volume perception will enable us to create positive illusions of spaciousness – which may help the future aircraft passenger to experience comfort while the physical space is limited.
One series of experiments at the MPI focuses on uncovered illusions in space perception by research in the architectural domain, including that of rectangularity. The perception of a space is influenced by the ratio of width and depth, such that a rectangular indoor space is perceived larger than a square space of the same area. In our recent experiments, we seek to replicate this effect in virtual environments along with other important parameters like lighting (in collaboration with Fraunhofer IAO) and the influence of the physical 'real world' environment surrounding the participant. In addition, the discovery of the rectangularity illusion led to a hypothesis that the effect may be influenced by our utility of the space, for example the mathematical properties of rectangular spaces would allow greater interpersonal distance between people. Therefore, we have an ongoing intercultural study with western europe and east asian populations which investigates this hypothesis further. With this study we hope to find out whether cultural influences also play a role in how space is perceived. This study is important with respect to the goals of VR Hyperspace, where the target group of airplane passengers is inherently international and the objectives need to meet the needs of multiple cultures.
Besides the currently conducted research we have also planned a new series of experiments which will investigate the influence of the frame of reference/gravity on the perception of space in virtual reality environments. Future aircraft passengers will likely use virtual reality devices in other than the usual sitting posture in an airplane, for example while lying in their seat. However, it is unknown whether and how this lying posture interferes with our perception of space, which is an important question for VR-HYPERSPACE.