BA | Active Movement in Extended Reality

January 2019Sebastian Wloch, Advisor: Prof. Constanze Langer, Advisor: Tank Thunderbird
How do you motivate people to be physically active? This Bachelor Thesis explores the use of social interfaces in form of a virtual training partner in XR to form healthy habits.


The aim of this work is to motivate people who do not engage in much sporting activity to take more exercise. Several factors have been identified in the analysis of sports behavior and general theories of motivation. These include social responsibility, which, for example, leads to improved health in dog owners through regular walks, the desire for quickly visible success, or high individual flexibility. In order to address these and other factors, the use of a digitally enhanced reality is being investigated, which includes current trends such as augmented or virtual reality (VR). In the deeper analysis of this immersion, a positive influence on the general learning behavior can be determined. The potential of combining physical reality and the digital environment is already used in various fields of application, such as medicine, trade, and industry. In entertainment, VR games, for example, create an immersive experience, which in some cases already leads to an increased level of attention.

While methods of game design are used among others, this work focuses on a virtual training partner. This partner is located in the physical environment of the trainee and interacts on a friendly level. This includes feedback in joint training sessions and the active motivation to move regularly and sufficiently. Since further technological developments are required to provide extensive interaction and analysis, this concept is theoretical in nature. For demonstration and evaluation, a prototype based on an AR app for smartphones and tablets has been developed.


Rather than drawing conclusions from practical experience and existing products, the thesis combines psychological principles of human behavior and motivational theories with immersive and social interfaces and therefore establishes a basis for further research and practical application reaching beyond the use case of physical activity. 


What defines an immersive experience? What makes you feel part of your surrounding or a story? In a historical context, the urge for immersion manifests itself in a continuous exploration of cinematography, storytelling, and engaging all senses. Through contraptions like Morton Heilig’s Sensorama in 1962, the emergence of early AR and VR experiments in the 90s, and the recent spread of HMD and smartphone-based XR and AI, new technologies create new possibilities for immersive experiences.

As multiple studies suggest a connection between high immersion and increased learning capacity and motivation, sport and physical activity in general is a perfect area of application.

Motivation through social guidance

A major factor in motivational theories is the human dependence of social confirmation and comparison. Having someone that keeps you company and takes you along to new places and activities is a sustainable way to keep exercising. A virtual training partner combines this concept with individual and dynamic training routines, using your fitness data tracked by wearables. A virtual being, that is able to motivate you personally, needs to be relatable and interact on an informal level. Even though the partner covers tasks of a fitness coach, being able to adapt in outer appearance and activities to the individual’s training level is essential to maximize motivation. 

Prototyping & Learnings

In order to evaluate the hypothesized benefit of increased activity and to communicate the concept, an AR prototype was developed. It demonstrates an exemplary interaction including the common selection of activities and a short run through. As the concept would require a complex combination of sensor data, machine learning, speech recognition, and synthesis, the prototype shows on a single use-case: A Yoga Workout. The character was modeled, rigged, and animated using Blender and combined with voice recordings, spacial positioning, and interaction in Unity.

Prototyping the concept soon revealed to come with a steep learning curve for an Interaction Designer with moderate programming and 3D creation experience, leading to a highly time-consuming process. Speaking to many of my fellow design students, this cumbersome process and required skillset apparently prevents many to explore new ideas for spacial interfaces.

Within my master thesis, I am exploring ways to simplify the XR prototyping process by analyzing the needs and paint-points with students at the @FHPotsdam and by incorporating design methods that are well established in 2D UX design.

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