Virtual reality is a very promising technology that can be used in many different experimental researches. Researches in cognitive representation of space could exploit at best facilities provided by virtual reality and, on the other hand, can better evaluate pros and cons, limits and capabilities of the new medium.
To test hypothesis concerning the cognitive representation of an environment it is necessary to face many practical problems: experiments have to be carried into buildings subjects never explored before, free of undesired labels and landmarks; buildings must be large and complex enough to require a non trivial representation and, during experimental session, have to be uninhabited.
Other problems arise during experiments: movements and actions of the subjects can not be precisely recorded, and data has to be rewritten in a computer format to compute quantitative and statistical analysis.
In spite of it's drawbacks, virtual reality could offer the solution of many of the problems just exposed. Experimenters can create ad hoc buildings with the desired furnishings, where subjects can navigate, explore, search; the software can directly log movements and record actions with the desired spatial and temporal resolution. Researchers can create types of interaction that in real word can not be realized.
The present work describes the realization of a virtual reality environment used to test some experimental hypothesis concerning the spatial cognition.
The main concerns of our work were the following:
create a closed large scale virtual environment, complex enough to require a non trivial spatial representation;
manage the kind of interaction of the participants inside the environment;
register the movements of participants, and provide a pictorial representation of their walk.