BridgeVoteR VR: Building Bridges to Better Democracy
Scheibbs: A city in Austria about 1.5 hours southwest of Vienna centered along the Erlauf River is preparing to build a new bridge which incorporates a hydroelectric generator to help power the city. The citizens of Scheibbs voted to decide which bridge design they would prefer.
Scheibbs City Hall
Through the use of virtual reality, citizens who gathered at the local Rathaus(city hall) were able to see exactly what each design of the bridge would look like in a virtual simulation of the city, the surrounding area, and the intended bridge designs.Voters were able to get a sense of what if feels like to be standing on and viewing the new bridge from nearby locations.An intuitive user interface to change to each bridge, provide a star rating, and teleport to designated spots along the new bridge.Ratings were given anonymously via the eDem system of Austria’s Bundesrechenzentrum and were recorded anonymously with each individual’s unique QR code to register citizen's ratings. The ViARsys VR-Voting booth allows ratings to be submitted within the simulation and confirmed on a tablet or smartphone.
📽️ Overview video of what to expect inside BridgeVoteR 1.0
The environment was built utilizing photogrammetry, a technique used to create 3D models from many photographs processed through specialized software. The photos were taken from a drone camera that took 360° photos of the area and more targeted and detailed photos of the buildings and area where the bridge will be built. We utilized one of the 360° photos as the skybox of the environment and placed the photogram at real-world scale inside. This became the basis for the simulated environment which we then decorated with animated water, stock 3D models of trees, shrubs, foliage and a couple of car models(like a Tesla Model S). Ambient audio was also added to provide the sounds of the running water and birds chirping.
Bridge A: Edelrost
Bridge B: Fischbauch
Bridge C: Tetratop
The 3D bridge models were provided by the designing architect in Rhino format. This was a little difficult to get just right as it was found that exporting the models without them being at the center origin(0,0,0) gave the software performance problems and the exports were very jaggy and messed up. Once the trick of ensuring the models were at origin before exporting was found, the models came out pretty clean. With some additional UV mapping and the bridges were properly textured and complete.
Each bridge was then placed into the photogram at the appropriate space and aligned with each other so that as you‘stood’ on them in the simulation, they appeared where they will in real life once built.
A user interface was iterated on directly within Neos, utilizing Neos’ powerful LogiX(visual node-based scripting) capabilities. The UI had to meet a few different requirements.
The first challenge was to provide users with a means of switching between each of the three bridge options. We created buttons for each option, and utilized the Physical Button component in conjunctions with some LogiX to show and hide the various bridge models when any particular button was pressed by the user. This also changed an indicator hovering over three smaller models of the bridges directly above the buttons and changed the material applied to each button as well. Lastly, each selected bridge model had a slight‘wiggle’ applied so that it moved slightly when selected.
User Following & Locomotion
We wanted to ensure that the interface, no matter where the user moved to in the physical world or in the virtual world, would follow the user and always be at arm’s length. We also wanted to ensure that it was always accessible no matter if the user was short, tall, sitting, or standing. Since we also planned to provide locomotion options within the simulation, it should also follow them to each intended location. Neos has an excellent component for this that can be applied to objects and with a few adjustments to the settings and testing various scenarios, we got it just right. It also snaps to the front of them after they turn a certain number of degrees so that as they turn to look around, the UI is always front and center.
We knew the locomotion could be a very challenging aspect of the simulation. We wanted voters to be able to see the bridge from afar, but also to feel like they were standing on the bridge. Research has shown that hotspot teleportation is typically the easiest form of locomotion for new users of VR to use and understand, so we implemented 4 different locations that a user could point to, see it highlight, and then click to teleport themselves. From there they had different views of the bridge and how it would look in their city. They could turn around to really get an accurate idea of how each of the new bridges would look, at scale.
A custom element was created for the five-star voting mechanism that allows the user to touch any one of the five stars and it will highlight the previous stars. For instance, touch star 4 and 1-4 all light up. Touch star 2 and only 1 and 2 light up, and so on. The value was then recorded in a field for another LogiX script to pick up when the button to submit your vote was pressed.
Web services middle layer
First ever vote cast in VR
Speaking of submitting the vote, the individual star ratings were sent to a localhost web service utilizing a particular port and path along with parameters to indicate the rating of each bridge. LogiX was used to send these parameters to a localhost server using the GET LogiX node, and the local web service running on the VR machine then handled sending the voting parameters to an external service which recorded the vote into a blockchain application. A QR code was previously sent to each voter beforehand, scanned before they entered the simulation, and sent along with the voting parameters as the unique identifier to the blockchain application.
BRZ eDem is an e-democracy solution based on blockchain technology developed by the BRZ. Special attention is paid to security, reliability, and transparency in the voting process. The separation of identity and digital ballot makes voting anonymous, but at the same time it ensures that only one vote is possible. In the future, BRZ eDem will simplify participatory processes in cities and municipalities for citizens as well as for the implementing bodies.
Understanding that even this form of locomotion could possibly be difficult for new users, and we wanted to ensure that we eliminated any form of frustration in the process. So implementation of a keyboard option and an operator helping each participant. The operator could hit 1 on the keyboard to teleport the user from the starting point to location 1 on the bridge. 2 and 3 would go to secondary and tertiary locations. Then 4-5-6 would teleport the user to these same corresponding location, but would swap the bridge. 7-8-9 the same, but for bridge 3. This turned out to be a very prudent feature to implement as there was a very large contingent of people who for various reasons could not use the hand controllers at all. Keeping accessibility in mind, especially for uncharted experiences in virtual reality, is important to make sure everyone is able to participate in the voting process.
The“Home” key was used to reset the simulation. This would teleport the user to the starting location, reset all voting, select the first bridge, and unattach the interface from following the user. This was used for each new participant to get it all back into a starting position, and ready for them to begin.
Operator helping a voter.
Since we required an operator be able to see where a voter was at all times within the simulation so that they could control the user’s location, or help them to understand what option to press, we had a problem: how could we ensure that the operator could help the user without being able to see their vote?
Luckily, Neos has a built-in solution for this already. A camera was first placed behind the user, attached to them, and pointing to the user interface. This ensured that the operator could always see on the monitor what the user was seeing. Then, the user themselves, as well as the five-star voting mechanism was hidden from the camera. These elements simply do not render to the monitor at all, and so the operator could never see what a voter chose, ensuring total privacy of the vote. It worked spectacularly.
Development advantages with NeosVR
This simulation was built with NeosVR, which is a metaverse engine that allows us to create and publish private or public VR applications and spaces. This development framework has many advantages to building simulations and collaborating in real-time.
VR Design & Development
Development advantages with NeosVR