- Open Access
User-elicited dual-hand interactions for manipulating 3D objects in virtual reality environments
© The Author(s) 2018
- Received: 6 June 2018
- Accepted: 9 October 2018
- Published: 29 October 2018
Virtual reality technologies (VR) have advanced rapidly in the last few years. Prime examples include the Oculus RIFT and HTC Vive that are both head-worn/mounted displays (HMDs). VR HMDs enable a sense of immersion and allow enhanced natural interaction experiences with 3D objects. In this research we explore suitable interactions for manipulating 3D objects when users are wearing a VR HMD. In particular, this research focuses on a user-elicitation study to identify natural interactions for 3D manipulation using dual-hand controllers, which have become the standard input devices for VR HMDs. A user elicitation study requires potential users to provide interactions that are natural and intuitive based on given scenarios. The results of our study suggest that users prefer interactions that are based on shoulder motions (e.g., shoulder abduction and shoulder horizontal abduction) and elbow flexion movements. In addition, users seem to prefer one-hand interaction, and when two hands are required they prefer interactions that do not require simultaneous hand movements, but instead interactions that allow them to alternate between their hands. Results of our study are applicable to the design of dual-hand interactions with 3D objects in a variety of virtual reality environments.
- Virtual reality
- Head-mounted displays
- Dual-hand input devices
- Interaction design
- 3D manipulation
- Interaction techniques
- User-elicitation study
One of the main benefits of VR is its immersive experience and the ability to manipulate and interact with 3D objects that approximates how they are manipulated in the physical world. The entire virtual world in the VR environments are collection of 3D objects. There are many ways to interact with 3D objects in these environments. One typical basic interaction is direct manipulation [1, 2] of 3D objects in these virtual worlds. In the real world, “manipulation” refers to any changes applied by/through the human hand. Similarly, in VR environments, a real hand or an interface tool is used to grasp and move 3D virtual artefacts. This virtual interaction enables a rich set of direct manipulations of these 3D objects. There are many fundamental forms of interaction in a VR world: moving around or navigation, selection, rotation, translation, scaling, slicing and so on. These forms correspond to the actions we perform in the real world (e.g. navigation or rotation). There have been a great number of games and other types of applications coming out which require users to interact with 3D objects in a virtual environment. Minecraft for VR, a popular game that is supported by both the HTC Vive and Oculus, is a typical example of these types of games and requires users to use the dual-hand controllers to manipulate the 3D objects. Given their repaid introduction, further research is needed to know whether those forms of interaction based on dual-hand controllers are intuitive and preferable by typical users.
This research explores the suitability of dual-hand interactions for 3D manipulation in VR environments. Given that VR HMD have only become widely available, it is timely that we take a closer look at what types of interactions are considered natural and suitable for 3D manipulations by users. It is likewise important to know how people tend to perform manipulations when they are interacting with 3D objects inside a virtual reality environment. In this research, we conduct a study to elicit user-defined gestural interactions for dual-hand input devices for manipulating 3D virtual objects. This approach allows us to evaluate a series of tasks performed by users and extrapolate the set that is considered useful and intuitive by most of these users. This approach can also help extrapolate factors and rules that contribute to the design of these 3D manipulation techniques.
The main contributions of this paper are: (1) a set of user-elicited interactions for dual-hand manipulation of 3D objects in VR environments; and (2) recommendations for the design of these interactions.
In order to find out what interactions are both natural and supportive for 3D manipulation in VR HMDs, we conducted an elicitation study. We wanted to conduct this study because we hoped to develop a more complete set of gestures and distil a set of design recommendations for such input devices. As stated earlier, user-elicitation can help to achieve this [34, 35, 40].
Apparatus and participants
Twelve right-handed non-paid participants (six females) with an average age of 21 were recruited for this experiment. They were all from a local university from different educational backgrounds. They had not had much first-hand experience with VR; 6 had seen how VR HMDs work in online videos. They all had normal or corrected-to-normal eye vision.
Our experimental prototype was based on the HTC Vive headset and its paired controller. Participants were given freedom to use any of the features of the controller, using one or both hands.
Task, procedure, and experimental design
The 3D tasks given to participants organized by category
3D manipulation tasks
Use Vive controller to Select a Cube
2. About X axis
Move the cube along the X-axis: the axis pointing horizontally to the left or right
3. About Y axis
Move the cube along the Y-axis: the axis pointing vertically upward or downward
4. About Z axis
Move the cube along the Z-axis: the axis pointing forward or backward
5. XZ plane
Move the cube in the X–Z plane
6. YZ plane
Move the cube in the Y–Z plane
7. XY plane
Move the cube in the X–Y plane
8. About X axis
Rotate the cube about the X axis
9. About Y axis
Rotate the cube about the Y axis
10. About Z axis
Rotate the cube about the Z axis
Throw the cube forward
Throw the cube backward
Throw the cube to the left side
Throw the cube to the right side
Throw the cube upward
Switch and stack
Switch the cube from one hand to another
Stack one cube on top of another
Participants were first given time to practice with the Vive Controller and HMD headset. To give them some focus, we let them play an in-house made game in which they had to manipulate a set of rectangular objects (see Fig. 1). It was also intended to help participants familiarize themselves with a typical 3D VR environment. The participants were asked to use the Vive controller to select and move the rectangular objects. After they were familiar with the virtual environment and the Vive controllers and headset, we began the experiment. We first showed the participants each interaction one at the time via 3D animations in the VR environment. After the animation was run once, a researcher would explain the 3D task further for clarity and asked if there were any questions. The animation could be replayed as many times as requested. Participants were then asked to create an interaction with the Vive Controller using any of the embedded features and in any manner that they felt intuitive. While performing the interaction, participants were asked to think aloud—that is, to verbalize what they were doing and why. Afterwards, they were asked to sketch or write a brief description of the interaction on a piece of paper. The process was repeated for all 17 manipulation interactions shown in Table 1.
In this section we present the general observations of the study and then present some design considerations derived from the results.
From Fig. 6, we can observe that, in broad terms, there is high consistency for tasks requiring translation, especially along one axis only. There is lower agreement for translation tasks dealing with the Z-axis (e.g., translation along the XZ axes). This observation agrees with results from  whose authors have examined user-elicited interactions for tasks using a mobile device and found that 3D tasks dealing with the Z-axis are not easy to perform and that users would give a wider range of possible interactions.
Types of gestures performed by the participants based on the part of arm used
Part of the arm
Selection (Task 1)
Translation (Tasks 2, 5, 7)
Rotation (Task 10)
Switch and stack (16 and 17)
Selection (Task 1)
Translation (Tasks 3, 4, 6)
Rotation (Tasks 8 and 9)
Switch and stack (16 and 17)
The human arm has three joints: shoulder, elbow, and wrist. They connect the arm proper, forearm, and hand. The shoulder and elbow joints allow people to carry out 5 distinct types of motions (see Fig. 10), while the wrist joint allows us to perform 3 types of rotations [44, 45]. Our study shows that participants have not made use of wrist motions but instead they have used either shoulder and elbow movements, or combinations of the two. That is, it is based on shoulder abduction, elbow flexion, shoulder internal rotation, shoulder flexion, and shoulder horizontal abduction.
In the exit questionnaire and interview, we asked participants why they had not made much use of their wrist. The common response was that given that the more natural way to work with the Vive Controller was to be standing, it was then also easier and more practical to use arm movements. In addition, they indicated that wrist motions were more suitable for small, minute movements that required precision and accurate control. They also commented that wrist rotations/twists were limited and physically difficult to do. Such comments were in line with research that had dealt with using the wrist for doing tilt gestures (e.g., see ), which had pointed out that the range of motions for human wrist was rather limited. Furthermore, participants also felt that VR should not be for very accurate tasks and that they would prefer to use a different controller for such tasks. One reason was that viewing through the HMD to focus on small elements for a prolonged time was tiring for their eyes; the other reason was that performing interactions that required precision in mid-air was not that easy (but was actually tiring). Although the touchpad located on top of each device could be used for accurate interactions, participants felt that it was not natural and convenient to use. Also, they suggested that the touchpad did not fit into their model of how the handheld device ought to work. They also indicated that it was not easy to interact with the touchpad while also carrying out motion gestures with the device. This seemed to agree with earlier research about input devices, where it was found that despite providing multiple features that were considered useful, actual users may not be able to take advantage of them and use more than one feature simultaneously [18, 46].
In terms of the 5 shoulder/elbow motions, participants seem to prefer shoulder motions (e.g., Task 1-right, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 15), followed by elbow ones (e.g., Tasks 1-left, 8, 9, 11, Task 12-left). There were some cases when both shoulder and elbow were used together (e.g. 12-right, 16, 17) and at least one gesture which required bending (e.g., 17). In a way, most of the gestures appear to be a combination shoulder abduction, flexion, and horizontal abduction. We asked participants to provide their preferences for each type of shoulder and elbow motion. Participants’ responses were to a large extent consistent in this order: Shoulder flexion→ shoulder abduction → elbow flexion → shoulder horizontal abduction → shoulder internal rotation. When asked why, most of them said that they had more flexibility of motion and felt less tired with the first three motions, while the last two would increase their fatigue level but provided them with small range of motions. Support for this can be found in literature for gestural interactions. For example, techniques proposed by [42, 43] rely on shoulder flexion accompanied by small shoulder horizontal abduction movements; and techniques recommended in  for menu selection of self-portrait cameras are based on shoulder flexion plus elbow flexion with small shoulder horizontal motions.
In terms of using the two hand-held devices together, it would appear that for most tasks participants were able to do the tasks with one of the devices. In addition, participants commented that the two devices were identical and sometimes was difficult to tell them apart and because of this it was not easy to think in terms of using the two together. In terms of its design, participants said that it would have been more cognitively easier if the two devices had a different feeling, tactile wise or in terms of its shape, something akin to the Nintendo Wii Remote and the Nunchuk combination. Despite the form factor, participants were observed using two devices for coordinated tasks, such as Task 16, which was primarily based on elbow flexion/internal rotation. We asked participants if they would want to use two hands more often. They said that they prefer not to because it is not easy to coordinate two hands moving together, especially when they were wearing the VR HMD. This was rather surprising. They said that if they had to use two hands, they would not mind doing so but they would rather use one hand. If they had to use two hands, a number of participants suggested it would be preferable if the two hands were going in the same direction or doing the same activity—for example, both hands doing elbow flexion. In addition, they said that they would find it difficult if two hands were doing things simultaneously. They further said that it would be better if interactions requiring two hands to have asynchronous actions, with one hand doing one action first, and afterward the other hand can perform a follow up action. This is in line with research about dual hand interaction techniques [20, 25, 26, 48, 49]. For example, for text entry activities, when using two hands at the same time, it can lead to faster performance, but it can also decrease their accuracy [26, 48]. In addition, when performing two-handed simultaneous marking menu strokes, it has been reported that the participants had the slowest reaction time because of the extra cognitive burden in “remembering and planning their strokes when coordinating simultaneous motions of two hands” [42; p. 16.14].
3D manipulations with a handheld device should attempt to minimize the use of the wrist.
VR environments should minimize requiring users to carry out precise actions that require focusing on small elements for a long time.
Interactions should try to leverage shoulder flexion and shoulder abduction in combination with elbow flexion.
Stretching-out and lifting of the arms appears to be more preferred and easier to perform.
Simultaneous dual hand interactions seem suitable for tasks that may not require precise movements.
As the proliferation of dual-hand controllers for both virtual and mixed reality systems continues to grow, further research will still be needed as they are still open questions. The dual-hand controllers for VR systems are symmetrical and have the same functionalities. We have the example of the Nintendo Wii controller, which in a way is a combination of two separate input devices (the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk). Although it is a dual-hand controller, each side has a different form factor (for example their shapes and tactile feelings are different) and yet have both similar and different functions. It would be a useful line of research to explore if similar asymmetric designs will enhance the usability of the controllers for manipulating 3D objects in VR environments. All current dual-hand VR controllers appear to have symmetrical design and functionalities for both hands. With an asymmetrical design, it will be possible to explore how one can leverage Guiard’s theory of Kinematic Chain  in VR environments. For example, we can answer questions like how to use one hand to serve as the reference frame to support and complement the other simultaneous, more precise tasks that need to be performed with the other hand; or whether asymmetrical controllers can lead to better synchronization of simultaneous activities using both hands at the same time in VR environments.
In addition, manipulating 3D objects in VR environments can be affected by the nature and properties of the objects themselves. This effect can be multi-faceted and these factors include size of the objects, their distance from the users, their shape (e.g., regular vs. irregular), and whether the objects are moving or static. To identify any correlations between these properties of virtual 3D objects and users’ preferred choice of gestures requires further investigation, especially when these gestures are based on dual hand devices.
Summary and conclusions
In the paper we have presented our work on the exploration of suitable manipulations to interact with 3D objects in virtual reality head-mounted display (HMD) environments. We conducted a user-elicitation study to explore what interactions are more natural and intuitive for dual-hand controllers for manipulating 3D objects in these environments. The results of the study suggest that for dual-hand devices users prefer interactions that are based on shoulder motions (e.g., shoulder abduction, shoulder horizontal abduction) and elbow flexion movements. In addition, users seem to prefer one-hand interaction, and when two hands are required they prefer interaction that do not require simultaneous hand or arm movements for precise interactions. Our research is limited to one type of dual-hand controller (based on the HTC Vive). Despite this, our results are applicable to similar dual hand devices, like the Oculus Touch and PlayStation Move. In the future we plan to explore design issues of these dual-hand controllers to see if we can increase users’ preference and ability to use two hands to interact with 3D objects in virtual environments.
VN, H-NL, and FL framed the ideas of the paper and the design of the study. VN and FL run the experiment to collect the data and, with the help of H-NL, did the analysis of the results. All 6 authors (VN, H-NL, FL, KP, YY and KLM) contributed to the writing of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We would like to thank the experiment participants for their time. We would like to also thank the reviewers for the comments and suggestions that have helped improve the quality of our paper.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Availability of data and materials
Available upon request.
This research was partially funded by the XJTLU Key Program Special Fund and XJTLU Research Development Fund.
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