Note: The original name of this project was VirtuaReader. Renamed because of confusion with other reading-related submissions.
Put this together yesterday with a lot of help from the folks at Metatron VR, especially Nate Eight, who came up with the original idea. I thought it’d be a relatively simple app to help me get started devving in this space, while also being novel and practical. Working on it now!
Metatron and eVRydayVR present VR Speed Reader, an application for rapidly reading text documents in VR. Based on Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), VR Speed Reader rapidly presents words from a document embedded in virtual space; this both limits eye movement and discourages bad habits like subvocalization (reading the text in your head) and regression (re-reading portions that were already read) which harm reading speed. Compared to screen-based RSVP apps like Spritz and Spreeder, VR Speed Reader makes more effective use of peripheral vision to provide essential context, and uses head tracking to provide a simple user interface that can be used to configure the reading rate without interrupting reading.
The average adult typically reads printed text at 300 WPM or less, but contestants in the World Championship Speed Reading Competition routinely reach WPM rates in the thousands. What accounts for such variability in reading speeds? Some of the limitations on reading speed include:
- Subvocalization: the act of engaging the muscles associated with speaking without producing audible words, limiting the reading rate to the reader’s speaking rate;
- Regression: re-reading text that was already read earlier;
- Eye movement/saccades: the time needed for the eyes to move between words.
Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), used by monitor-based speed reading apps, combats these issues by presenting a stream of single words at a high rate, faster than the reader can subvocalize. There is no need to move the eyes, and no opportunity to regress. However, compared to normal reading, this also removes contextual clues in peripheral vision, and removes the reader’s control over their reading rate.
Virtual reality presents the opportunity to get the best of both worlds by solving these issues within the RSVP paradigm. The center of the user’s field of view still focuses on a single word at a time, but the remainder of the HMD’s wide field of view can be filled with the target text, maintaining the comprehension cues associated with paragraph context and sentence structure even at high WPM rates. Although this text cannot be read, it helps the reader to both recall the structure of the text they have just read and predict the structure of upcoming text. Additionally, VR allows us to solve a common issue with RSVP, in which adjusting options such as reading speed on-the-fly requires pausing the reading task; instead, subtle head tracking controls such as rotating the head slightly left or right can be leveraged for this purpose. The eyes’ natural counter-rotation during head movement keeps them focused on the text in the center of the field of view so that no words are missed.
As this technology is still highly experimental, VR Speed Reader will treat it as such, supplying users with an array of customizable options. Possibilities include text size, gaze keyhole size, distance to text plane, curved vs. flat document, highlighted character length, fixed plane vs. fixed avatar, variable colors, scrolling vs. warping, etc. By building data collection into the application (with user consent), we can study the most effective combinations and allow users to compare themselves to others, including the possibility of familiar game elements such as global scoreboards. Although the initial prototype will be created with fixed demonstration texts in mind to simplify design, later versions will permit a variety of documents to be loaded and read.