More Than An Animal Simulation—A New Perception of Space with VR

It is hard for humans to visualize/imagine the way animals view the world, as the human perspective is so dominant in our lives. We may learn about optics, natural selection, and visual adaptations in class, but we cannot yet truely appreciate how such adaptations function and affect the perceptual experience. What is it like to see as a tarsier, a primate with extremely specialized vision? How does the way we view the world affect us, and what can we learn from an altered experience?

To address this problem, we created a Virtual Reality application, “Tarsier Goggles”, that provides an immersive experience of the world in the eyes of a tarsier. We constructed an exhibition containing interactive stations. Each environment in the stations emphasizes the user's appreciation for image brightness, field of view, depth of field, and color blindness. Finally, a culminating environment of a Bornean forest allows the users to synthesize their understanding of a new perception of space in a more realistic setting.

For this project, I worked as a multi-player. I oversaw to the entire project's progress as the Project Manager, leading the workflow with Agile Development Methodologies and facilitating communication among designers, developers and project partners. Also, contributing to the project as a Designer and Developer, I was able to integrate Technology with Digital Arts by conducting User Research, modeling in 3D, scripting in C# and learning to develop a game in Unity3D. In this page, I would like to focus mainly on the design process of the project. For more information on the development process, please click here.


  • Defining the Problem
  • The problem itself was hard to pinpoint exactly as we hoped to provide a deeper meaning than “Tarsiers are endangered” or “Tarsiers have different visual adaptations.” To achieve this, the members reframed the question over and over. First, into a single sentence. Then, into an opportunity. Then, into a narrower scope version. Then, into a larger scope.

  • In the Shoes of the User
  • What is the public opinion towards Virtual Reality? How can the Tarsier Goggles benefit the users? Who would use/need the project the most? I created fake user personas and thought about their situations of need.
    Eliza Nelson (museum lover), Becky Barrett (high school student), Ahmet Eksioglu (high school teacher)

  • Market & Inspiration Research

  • inspo1 inspo1

    The topics of research were "VR in Education", "Animal Simulators", and "VR Environments." We searched currently existing projects, web applications, mobile applications, and games related to such topics. The most similar project was done by ITEOTA (figure on the left). It was a large scale project that was location specific as it involved having the VR Headsets in the middle of the forest. It emphasized the senses beyond sight, incorporating the sense of smell, touch as well as sound. The scientific accuracy of the animals' visions is questionable, however. It seems to be a more artistic representation of the idea. More on InVision Board

    Key Insights
    • Low Accessibility of VR counteracts the educational and inspirational purpose of the project. To overcome this, the team decided to aim for public displays of the project - either in an exhibit or even in class. Also, we foresaw that not many people would have had VR experience. We discussed the need for easy, intuitive controls as well as a tutorial.
    • Interactive Elements enriches and adds credibility to the VR experience. A new challenge for us was to design interactive elements that were educational and thought-provoking without directly giving instructions to the users on what to do.
    • Rendering the Ambience in a believable way is a challenge. There is a fine line between being realistic and tumbling into the uncanny valley. Rather than going for hyper-realism, it may be a better strategy to go for abstraction. Inspirations for the environment concept included low-poly models of forests and simple exhibition buildings.


What would the exhibition be like? What will the stations inside the exhibition be like? What are some adjectives to describe such space?

One of the struggles for designing in VR was this - how would I create a mockup and a user flow diagram for VR? To address this problem, I used storyboards to sketch out the key scenes of the VR experience instead of the pages that are layed out for mobile application mockups. Especially, animation storyboards came in handy.


User Flow Paper Sketch for Testing

Conducting user testing with a storyboard instead of high-resolution mockups was not easy. Key scenes in a sequence did not represent the VR experience. And for some scenes, additional explanation about the intention was needed that some bias was involved.

  • need background information on tarsiers: why tarsiers?
  • indication on whether the user's vision is on human or tarsier mode is unclear with the eyeballs icon
  • reading instructions may not be the best idea as it is hard to read in VR Goggles
  • station pillars should display what the inner environments are like
  • overall structure of an exhibition with several stations is intuitive and natural to the user flow

Building While Sorting Out Priorities

Oh No! What Happened?

10 weeks for launching a VR Exhibition on top of school work was a tough schedule even for a five members team. As we aimed for a debut in the Technigala, we decided some features had to be modified or postponed for later development. Thankfully, the project was selected to continue for another 10 weeks that we could pick the four most important features that defined the project.

  • Tarsier Vision: toggleable vision feature that flips changes between tarsier and human optics
  • Exhibition
  • Depth of Field Station
  • Brightness Compensation Station
  • Tarsier Forest

Exhibition of the Exhibition

The team was excited to present the Tarsier Goggles at the 2018 Technigala. People from all different ages were interested in testing out the VR experience. Staff members of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Professor Lorie Loeb, the Executive Director of the DALI Lab, several Dartmouth students, and even two kindergarteners experienced Tarsier Goggles with great success. We live played the experience on a large screen so as to let other people see how the tarsiers see the world.

Finalized Features
  • Importance of Tutorials: It was a struggle to teach the HTC Vive Controls to all the users every single time. Especially for children of young age. We prepared a small illustration of the controls, but it was not enough. Perhaps an animated tutorial? Or an interactive tutorial may be more effective.
  • Focusing Problem: We figured out a bug in the Tarsier's Vision. The focus was sometimes off and would not adjust automatically.
  • Awe and Excitement: Depth of Field and the Tarsier's Forest were the most popular stations. The visual elements with colors, textures and light seemed to have inspired many of the users.
  • More Feedback


  • I am excited to announce a possible collaboration with the Vermont Institue of Natural Sciences. The team is currently working on customizing the VR experience to make it more fit for the exhibition. We are planning to add an Owl Vision feature as the owls are more local to Vermont.
  • Tutorials! Ever since the User Research stage, the team has felt the importance of having an effective tutorial regarding how VR is not as accessible to the public as other mediums. We wanted to make a proper, effective tutorial and for another next 10 weeks, it will be number one priority.
  • The beauty of this project was the flexible scalability. We can add as much stations we want into the exhibition and we are definitely planning on doing so.