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Development of interactive and distributed virtual environments for immersive communication in the furniture, fixture and equipment sector

Prabhakaran, Abhinesh

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Despite the significance of the furniture fixture and equipment (FFE) sector to the UK’s economy and the construction industry, this sector faces challenges that impede its productivity and performance, including an inability to meet end-user expectations in the delivery of its services. Lack of adoption of digitalisation and poor design communication between the stakeholders have been identified as one of the issues leading to challenges in the FFE Sector. In this context, visual representation offered by virtual reality (VR) can play a critical role in communicating the designs with the stakeholders effectively. However, evidence suggests that the current state of the VR application in the FFE sector lacks three critical advancements namely BIM-data interaction (interaction with the meta-data associated with the FFE elements), human-building interaction (interaction of stakeholders with FFE elements in the virtual environment) and human-human interactions (multi-user interaction). Therefore, the aim of this study was to bridge this gap through the development and testing of novel virtual environments for immersive communication between FFE and its construction project stakeholders. Furthermore, pre-conditions for the successful implementation of the developed VR applications were evaluated in this study through experimentation.

A sequential, exploratory, mixed-method research design was adopted for this study in three phases. In phase one, an extensive literature investigation was carried out to acquire deeper knowledge of existing literature to understand the state-of-the-art developments of immersive technologies in the construction industry with a specific focus on the current challenges and benefits of implementing immersive technology. Phase two of the study involved the development and testing of immersive, distributed and interactive VR applications for various scenarios of the FFE communications for construction. Each application was developed by applying rapid application development methodologies and combining BIM, game engine and low latency cloud server development paradigm. The developments were tested through quasi-experiments and evaluation by stakeholders to ascertain usefulness and utility in the FFE sector context. The first development focused on interactive VR for FFE and was tested among (n = 12) stakeholders using a quasi-experiment in a single-group, pre-test-post-test design. The second development focused on distributed immersion for FFE design communication and was tested among construction stakeholders involved in FFE design decision-making (n = 26). The distributed VR application was further tested further among (n = 9) stakeholders in the context of FFE retail and showcasing of FFE products. The experimental approaches in the second phase adopted combined quantitative and qualitative evaluations to ascertain system usability which fed into further development and finetuning of applications. Finally, in the third phase of the study, the interactive and distributed VR applications were validated among wider group of construction stakeholders (n = 117) using a survey to ascertain industry-wide utility and usefulness as well as establish factors that influence their wider adoption in the sector. A combination of descriptive and inferential statistics was applied to establish findings including Kruskal-Wallis and ANOVA to measure variations in views across different segments of the population of respondents.

Findings indicated that the interactive distributed immersive virtual FFE environment can enhance the productivity of the design team through a collaborative virtual workspace offering a synchronised networked design testing and review platform. Furthermore, it can reduce the time required for the stakeholders (Client/end-user, architect, FFE designer/contractor, FFE manufacturer) to comprehend and test the design options. In addition, the developed VR applications can enhance the design communication and quality of the design and encourage a collaborative culture in the industry and improve the design satisfaction of the stakeholders. It was also identified that the VR applications developed for this study can reduce the time required for design decision-making significantly when compared with traditional methods. In the retail and product showcasing context, the system was found to be a highly efficient and viable tool, which can deliver a compelling and richer experience similar to an FFE in-store experience. The testing also revealed that the proposed system not only improves the sense of presence but also brings in a new dimension of a sense of being together, which has a positive impact on decision making. Cumulative findings of this study revealed that distributed and interactive VR has become essential to digitalising the FFE sector’s design communication, with improved design communication being regarded as the most important benefit of its use. Conversely, the most critical challenge that inhibits the implementation of these two VR applications in the FFE sector is the perceived cost. This research proposes a step change in the way furniture design is communicated and coordinated through an immersive virtual experience, thus allowing informed decisions making and creating shared understanding before the commencement of the construction activity.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 13, 2023
Keywords Immersive technology, Virtual reality, Furniture, Interior design, Architecture, engineering and construction, Challenges, Benefits, distributed virtual reality, Interactivity, Immersive communication, Co-Presence, Usability, Intention to adopt, Virtual s
Public URL
Award Date Jan 13, 2023


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