Optera Group has made huge progress on our Operating Room VR experience for the HTC Vive. We completed our first training module, and have made the overall simulation experience more immersive, with better graphics fidelity and realistic sounds. One of the biggest challenges that we had to overcome though was how to create intuitive VR hand controls for non-gamers. The demographic for our OR simulation is nurses 35+, thus our goal was create an app that was intuitive enough that non-gamers could immediately interact with their virtual OR environment.
Earlier this year, we did user testing of the app and our Vive hand controls; based on the feedback we developed a new set of controls for the experience and the reaction from our latest round of testers has been overwhelmingly positive. We've greatly reduced the time users need to become comfortable with the controls and they can now focus on what matters in the simulation seconds after they put on the headset for the first time.
Optimizing for Oculus Touch Hand Controls
We are continuing to research ways to reduce the time it takes our non-gamer audience to naturally interact with objects in virtual reality, including discussions with VR glove manufacturers. But VR gloves are not yet commercially available, so we decided to give the more recently released Oculus Touch controllers a try. After adding Oculus support to our operating room simulation and doing some quick user testing, here are our thoughts on the Oculus Touch controllers and their benefits for our non-gamer users.
The Pros: Lightweight and ergonomic form factor
Both the Vive and Touch controllers have tracking rings around the controller, a trigger button, as well as a grip button. The visible differences on the Touch are the analogue joystick (instead of a touchpad on Vive) and two additional buttons on each controller.
The Touch controllers are very comfortable to hold, and lightweight which helps address some fatigue that non-gamer users may experience after longer interactions. Also because the Touch controls 'hug' your hand they are not as easy to drop or lose hold of. Overall they are very comfortable for users to handle.
The Pros: Revolutionary gesture tracking
One of the best features of the Touch controllers is the ability to track your hand gestures via sensors on the buttons and joystick. The sensors on the joystick and buttons track your thumbs, while the trigger and grip buttons track your index and the rest of your fingers. Finger tracking allows users to interact with virtual objects via gestures. Curl your hand into a fist to grab an object, point your index finger to interact with UI, and give a thumbs up or down to send a yes or no.
The Cons: Too complex
The form factors on Touch are very unfamiliar to non-gamers. The joystick can be difficult to get the hang of and the two additional buttons along with the trigger action just adds complexity. We found that our target audience had a hard time remembering which actions went with what buttons, resulting in extra support during the simulation experience which was frustrating. In our testing we found it took longer for users to understand all of the control options, and then still needed additional support throughout the app experience.
The Cons: Setup
With two extra sensors added, Oculus is much more work to set up than the Vive. These sensors add more wires (and more general clutter) and require more USB ports (3-4 in total). If you want 360° tracking, you’re required to place another sensor behind the user, attached with a very long USB cable.
The Touch controllers is definitely a giant leap forward in terms of interactions in the virtual world, but it is still far from perfect. Even with its ergonomic design, the learning curve to use the controllers especially for our target demographic was steep. For those of us that are evangalizing the power of AR VR, we have to keep in mind that larger adoption will not happen if the hardware and the UI of experiences can't be enjoyed by all users. Just like a website, or or a mobile app the user experience needs to tailored to the audience, be easy to use, and provide immediate successes. Otherwise you risk alientating the user and turning someone off from using the technology again.
The success of AR VR will in part hinge on creating a common set of interactions, hand controls, and hardware options similar to what has taken place with smartphones. Optera is working on developing a set of hand control standards from our testing, and we look forward to sharing more of our hardware analysis and UI conclusions in future posts.