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Cybersickness: Possible Prohibitive Side Effect of VR

Cybersickness, the new “it” word for motion sickness during or after virtual reality experiences, is a legitimate consumer problem for the VR industry. With differing opinions, it’s hard to figure how to manage it. Researchers in England and Germany argue VR can make users sick due to the latency between normal eye movement and visual display changes. Dr. Thomas Stoffregen of the University of Minnesota, proposes cybersickness occurs due to the subtle movements our bodies make when standing or sitting still, known as postural sway. Bas Rockers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison agrees a little bit with both. Rockers supports the commonly believed reason for all motion sickness, real or virtual induced, is caused by conflicting sensory information. Stoffregen and Rockers agree on one thing. As with motion sickness, women are more susceptible than men to cybersickness. During Rockers exploration of VR-induced nausea he found “… people who are more able to detect that something is different between what their eyes are telling them and what their balance system is telling them are more likely to develop motion sickness… And, on average, women are better at picking subtle visual differences than men, when taken as a group.” What seems present in each theory is sensory confusion.

vr diagram

Current VR Technology Can Easily Confuse Our Senses

Currently, mainstream VR headset like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Google Daydream trick your brain into believing it is in a 3D, 360-degree world. It is accomplished by creating visionary illusions using stereoscopic display (enhancing depth through angle enhancement, parallax, and peripheral shading). These ocular displays are then presented to us digitally through frames per second (FPS). Any headset refreshing these frames at less than 20 milliseconds will not be able to trick the brain into thinking it is in a virtual world and cause sensory confusion. Another aspect headsets use to create virtual reality is field of view (FOV). Field of view is the extent of what can be seen in the visible world. Humans have a 180 degree FOV, looking straight ahead, add eye movement and it expands to 270 degrees. Since the eye is sensitive to vision imperfection it picks up the different FOV when looking at the virtual world with a VR headset. Vive and Rift are the most visually compatible with 110 degrees respectively. VR headsets geared towards smartphone play only have 90-100 FOV. Without the correct hardware and graphics, it is easy to understand how consumers can experience cybersickness quite easily and frequently.

stereo vr
field of view diagram

VR Industry Making Improvements

Researchers at Brunel University London and Bonn-Rhein- Sieg University of Applied Science and Saarland University in Germany might have found a solution. Coined “foveated rendering” a technique that creates image display by mimicking how the eye sees the actual world. As explained by Thorsten Roth, a London based researcher, “We use a method where, in the VR image, detail reduces from the user’s point of regard to the visual periphery, and then our algorithm incorporates a process called reprojection. This keeps a small proportion of the original pixels in the less detailed areas and uses a low-resolution version of the original image to
‘fill in’ the remaining areas.” After testing VR images created with foveated rendering, participants experienced the best response with and inner visual radius of 10 degrees and an outer radius of 20 degrees. Participants also reported no noticeable VR improvement when more detail was added to the periphery of the FOV. Roth’s conclusion after initial research is, “Our method can be used to generate visually pleasant VR results at high update rates. This paves the way to delivering a real-seeming VR experience while reducing the likelihood you’ll feel
queasy.”

Another avenue to decreasing cybersickness is creation of VR using more senses than just vision and hearing. Vaqao VR, a Silicon Valley based company, has developed a nasal accessory that can emit multiple smells at once. CEO Kentaro Kawaguchi enthused, "This device makes your
VR experience richer". Vaqao VR is also developing a way to simulate taste. When describing
the company’s goal, Kawaguchi says, "We want to perfectly reproduce the various senses of the
five senses. Currently we can produce smells though taste may take a little while to develop."
Sensiks has already developed a full sensory reality pod. Full immersion into the virtual world is
created by augmenting visuals from a headset with exterior wind, light and heat sense simulator.
Virtuix’s Omni VR motion platform, enables participants to walk and run at full speed 360
degrees, as well as move sideways and backwards in real time speed. Neurable has created a
brain-computer attachment for HTC Vive headsets. This prototype attachment is reported to be
able to read the users brain signals but the thoughts must specifically relate to the current VR
experience.

Whatever the reason for VR users experiencing cybersickness, the industry is obviously
attempting to minimize the occurrence. With the auto, entertainment, hospitality, real estate, and

healthcare industries (to name a few) investing and implanting VR technology, remedies for
cybersickness are needed sooner than later.

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