Collocated collaboration in augmented and virtual environments
Design and creation activities often require close collaboration between multiple users. Such collaborative creation processes tend to be most effective when all actors are physically present. Shared physical space and artifacts provide a distinct set of affordances to promote collaboration, particularly natural support of verbal and non-verbal communication, such as gaze and referencing behaviors, which in turn promotes stronger teamwork and better collaboration. Notwithstanding the advantages of physical spaces and objects, using digital or digitally enhanced environments, tools, and objects has many benefits. Digital artifacts are easier to create, reproduce, and modify, when compared to physical objects, thus reducing the constraints on designers’ creativity.
We explore collocated collaboration on the continuum between physical to virtual, investigating the tensions between the strengths and weaknesses of different settings: fully physical, fully virtual, and augmented reality. Using a controlled laboratory experiment built around a creation task of building a structure out of blocks, we compared how participants collaborate in a completely physical, completely digital and an augmented reality environment. In the fully physical condition, the participants used actual wooden blocks. In the AR condition, the participants used digital blocks and placed them on top of the physical surface using handheld iPads. In the virtual condition, the participants worked in a fully virtual environment, each on his or her own device.
Our findings shed light on the intricate coordination mechanisms that are employed in the various settings. Notably, we found that a fully virtual environment is inferior in terms of communication, and overall was found the least effective. Interestingly, we found that AR represents a “sweet spot” between the physical and virtual, grounding the digital co-created artifact onto the physicality of the setting, such that overall AR was found to be as effective, if not better, than co-creation in a physical setting.