Why Does Virtual Reality Make Some People Sick?

Virtual reality in the last few years has been ramping up for a worldwide breakout. A big catalyst in creating the hype surrounding VR was Facebooks CEO Mark Zuckerberg acquiring Oculus VR and its Rift virtual-reality headsets in 2014. With market-leading gurus investing into the market then you would naturally believe that there’s a very bright future ahead for the technology right? Well, there’s actually a big roadblock in VR’s path of world domination. Motion sickness. VR is causing many people to feel nauseous when using the headsets even after a short period of time. This article will look at how developers are trying to minimize the effects of motion sickness from VR and why it happens in the first place.

Why VR Sickness Happens

VR sickness works in a similar way to seasickness. If you have ever had the feeling you will know it isn’t pleasant. If you imagine standing on a boat that is swaying in all directions due to rough seas and high wind. The entire boat is moving but your eyes and brain know that you standing still. When you feel the movement of the boat you start to sweat, your stomach feels incredibly tender and your head will start to pound. These are all similar effects that people are feeling when using a VR headset.

The scientific explanation lies within your vestibular system. This is a series of fluid-filled canals in the inner ears. As your head moves around to combat the movement that your eyes are receiving, so too does the fluid in the ear canals. This then stimulates the tiny hair cells also within the complex ear system. The system that also controls how we maintain our balance works in synchronization with our eyes. They also usually depend on muscle movements and sensations to combine information and send to the brain. This gives the brain a full picture of where we are in space and how to upright and safe. VR disrupts the flow of information massively; it deceives our eyes and ears into thinking that our body is in a different environment. These mix up of signals from our almost static bodies and VR stimulated senses to cause our bodies to react in a volatile manner – hence motion sickness.

Combating VR Sickness

Although no one knows why the mix up of signals in the brain cause us to react in the way that we do, developers are constantly trying to reduce the amount that we experience the feeling. Oculus Rift has boosted their refresh rate, this helps prevent visual lags as the user navigates the virtual world. Another great example is an idea that stemmed from Purdue University. Researchers found that if they input a virtual cartoon nose in the simulation that increased the average user time before sickness symptoms occurred. The theory was based around giving the user a reference point that they are used to.

So there are still a few more hurdles for VR to overcome before it is suitable for everyone, however, the promising steps towards improving the tech cannot be denied. We expect to see even more improvements in the not too distant future.

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