VEMI Lab PhD Student Hengshan Li Successfully Defends Doctoral Dissertation

A massive VEMI congratulations to our own Hengshan Li, who successfully defended his PhD dissertation, entitled “Evaluation of multi-level cognitive maps for supporting between-floor spatial behavior in complex indoor environments” on Monday, April 25th!

Hengshan’s research has been centered around the generation of multi-level cognitive maps in indoor environments, and how both certain architectural designs and the use of augmented reality visualizations can impact the formation of these maps.

His abstract is as follows:

People often become disoriented when navigating in complex, multi-level buildings. To efficiently find destinations located on different floors, navigators must refer to a globally coherent mental representation of the multi-level environment, which is termed a multi-level cognitive map. However, there is a surprising dearth of research into underlying theories of why integrating multi-level spatial knowledge into a multi-level cognitive map is so challenging and error-prone for humans. This overarching problem is the core motivation of this dissertation. 

This dissertation addresses this vexing problem in a two-pronged approach combining study of both basic and applied research questions. Of theoretical interest, we investigate questions about how multi-level built environments are learned and structured in memory. The concept of multi-level cognitive maps and a framework of multi-level cognitive map development are provided. We then conducted a set of empirical experiments to evaluate the effects of several environmental factors on usersí development of multi-level cognitive maps. The findings of these studies provide important design guidelines that can be used by architects and help to better understand the research question of why people get lost in buildings. Related to application, we investigate questions about how to design user-friendly visualization interfaces that augment usersí capability to form multi-level cognitive maps. An important finding of this dissertation is that increasing visual access with an X-ray-like visualization interface is effective for overcoming the disadvantage of limited visual access in built environments and assists the development of multi-level cognitive maps. These findings provide important human-computer interaction (HCI) guidelines for visualization techniques to be used in future indoor navigation systems.

In sum, this dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach, combining theories from the fields of spatial cognition, information visualization, and HCI, addressing a long-standing and ubiquitous problem faced by anyone who navigates indoors: why do people get lost inside multi-level buildings. Results provide both theoretical and applied levels of knowledge generation and explanation, as well as contribute to the growing field of real-time indoor navigation systems.