Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is a way of transporting a person to a reality (i.e., a virtual environment) in which he or she is not physically present but feels like he or she is there1.

Rebelo, F., Noriega, P., Duarte, E., & Soares, M. (2012). Using virtual reality to assess user experience. Human Factors, 54(6), 964-982. doi: 10.1177/0018720812465006


What is the difference between the reality and the virtuality?
There is no difference, because the reality is a virtual model created by our brain.

Within this research area, we use virtual reality as a tool to optimize design solutions, through the evaluation of human behavior in interaction with the elements of a virtual system.

Some developed projects in this area

  • Behavioral compliance for dynamic versus static signs in an immersive virtual environment2

One of our first projects that gave rise to the doctoral thesis of Professor Emilia Duarte.



This study used an immersive virtual environment (IVE) to examine how dynamic features in signage affect behavioral compliance during a work-related task and an emergency egress. Ninety participants performed a work-related task followed by an emergency egress. Compliance with uncued and cued safety signs was assessed prior to an explosion/fire involving egress with exit signs. Although dynamic presentation produced the highest compliance, the difference between dynamic and static presentation was only statistically significant for uncued signs. Uncued signs, both static and dynamic, were effective in changing behavior compared to no/minimal signs. Findings are explained based on sign salience and on task differences. If signs must capture attention while individuals are attending to other tasks, salient (e.g., dynamic) signs are useful in benefiting compliance. This study demonstrates the potential for IVEs to serve as a useful tool in behavioral compliance research.


2 Duarte, E., Rebelo, F., Teles, J., & Wogalter, M. S. (2014). Behavioral compliance for dynamic versus static signs in an immersive virtual environment. Applied Ergonomics, 45, 5, 1367-1375

Emília Duarte; F. Rebelo; J. Teles; M. S. Wogalter (2013). Behavioral compliance for dynamic versus static signs in an immersive virtual environmentstatic signs in an immersive virtual environment. Applied Ergonomics, Article in Press (IF=1.728)

Duarte, E.; Noriega, P.; Calhandro, A.; Rebelo, F. (2014). The effect of humoristic vs. dramatic animation-based warnings - A study on acceptance and risk perception. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting,58,1,1884-1888,2014,SAGE Publications 


  • Using Virtual Reality to Study the Influence of Environmental variables to enhance wayfinding within complex buildings

This study was developed by Elisangela Vilar, giving rise to his doctoral thesis.

Environmental buildings


Wayfinding difficulties may lead people to avoid places; it also can make them late for important occurrences such as business meetings or flights, which may cause loss of opportunity and money. Additionally, as settings grow in dimension and complexity, emergency evacuation emerges as a key problem, and wayfinding becomes a matter of life and death. The ability to predict people’s route-choice is particularly important to avoid wayfinding problems, mainly when considered during developmental stages of complex buildings. Studies focused on the factors that influence route-choice indoors are few; most of the studies are focused on spatial knowledge and wayfinding strategies considering outdoor environments. This dissertation considers the affordances concept as an approach to study the individual movement indoors. It considers that some environmental variables act as factors of attraction, improving corridors affordance and influencing the spatial decision. Directional signage was also discussed as explicit information that directly informs a path. The main goal was to contribute with a better understanding about the human wayfinding behavior indoors to define recommendations for optimizing the usability of complex buildings. For this, the use of signage and environmental variables as directional explicit and implicit information in directing people within complex buildings was investigated, considering everyday and emergency situations. A Virtual Reality-based methodology was used in three experiments. Results indicated that, when signage was absent, the environmental variables were able to direct people towards a specific destination in both, everyday and emergency situations. But, competing with posted signs, environmental variables were not so efficient. During an emergency egress, static ISO-type signs were not enough to lead people to a safe place when competing with the environmental variables in the studied conditions.


Vilar E., Rebelo F., Noriega P. (2018) Smart Systems in Emergency Wayfinding: A Literature Review. In: Marcus A., Wang W. (eds) Design, User Experience, and Usability: Designing Interactions. DUXU 2018. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10919, 379-388. Springer, Cham -

Vilar E., Rebelo F., Noriega P. (2018) Comparing Three Stimulus Presentation Types in a Virtual Reality Experiment to Human Wayfinding Behavior During Emergency Situation. In: Rebelo F., Soares M. (eds) Advances in Ergonomics in Design. AHFE 2017. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 588, 34-44. Springer, Cham -

Vilar, E., Rebelo, F., Noriega, P., Teles, J., Mayhorn, C. (2015). Signage versus environmental affordances: Is the explicit information strong enough to guide human behavior during a wayfinding task? Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing & Services Industries, 25(4), 439-452.


  • Space exploration matrices to evaluate human interaction with virtual environments

space matrixes

One of the greatest challenges is to create an environment in a way that people can find their destination in the fastest and safest manner. One way to study this kind of problem is to understand what happens during the path that an individual performs in an environment. In this project we used space exploration matrices to evaluate human interaction with virtual environments. The virtual environment is divided in a grid of adjustable cells. The frequency that each cell is stepped by a participant is saved. The “warm” colors represent more stepped on cells and “cold” colors less stepped on cells.

  • Nexperience

This project aims to improving the working conditions at Nespresso through the development of a solution for training the workers, using Virtual Reality, to induce safe behavior.