Exploration is a highly interactive, goal-driven process which involves decision making and travelling for the purpose of discovery. We propose a system for guided exploration in a virtual environment, a system which supports the user while exploring the environment. We support target selection by integrating the output of queriable information spaces into our system. We support travelling to these targets by automatically moving the user inside the resulting goalfield, presenting the targets one-by-one.
Our approach is based on the concept of dynamic potential fields, a local method derived from the physics of the motion of a charged particle -- here a camera -- in an electric potential field. It uses a discretized representation of the environment in a uniform rectangular grid. For the geometric setup, we present two, real-time capable voxelization methods. We present the CubicalPath system which is able to deal with interactive, real-time input by both the client application and the user, which can consist of dynamic, unpredictable object locations, dynamic or re-adjusted targets, a modified application view, and a force input generated by an interaction tool. The system is designed to be a platform and machine independent auxiliary support system and can be used by the application as an additional interaction tool. The application and the information space are connected to the server system through a lean interface which mirrors their common data structures.
We applied our system successfully to three existing applications and validated it with an informal usability test. The results show that the system is easily integrated into existing virtual environment applications and was generally found to be a useful support for exploration. With the CubicalPath system, existing applications can easily be enriched with a additional information layer, queriable by the users, and it relieves users from the task of directly, manually navigating in a virtual environment. This enables them to concentrate on the spatial information and to learn more about the presented environment.