Is Motion Sickness The Greatest Deterrence To Virtual Reality?

Posted: May 2 2017, 1:16am CDT | by , in News | Technology News

Is Motion Sickness the Greatest Deterrence to Virtual Reality?
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A look at a barrier for Virtual Reality mass market adoption.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of those once in a lifetime sort of innovations that people expectantly wait for and anxiously anticipate trying. It promises a unique experience – the chance to engage and actively participate in new environments without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

And while it’s impossible to deny the potential of VR technology, research is showing that there could be one slight problem: a lot of people are complaining of motion sickness.

Motion Sickness: Commonplace in VR

Run a quick Google search of the term “virtual sickness” and you’ll see story after story of people getting sick from strapping on their VR headset to play a video game, watch a movie, or enjoy some other experience. And their stories aren’t isolated.

According to one study, which looked at people playing the horror game Affected, 78 percent of women and 33 percent of men reported feeling symptoms of motion sickness. Other studies have reported similar numbers , with 75 percent of female participants and 41 percent of male participants feeling sick enough to stop watching a VR film.

In order to understand why people are getting sick during VR experiences, it’s helpful to rewind a bit and explain what motion sickness is. “The most widely accepted theory to emerge is that motion sickness is brought on by a mismatch between two or more of the senses that help you keep your balance,” science journalist Betsy Mason explains. “For example, when you’re below deck on a ship at sea, your eyes see a stationary room. But your vestibular system — the fluid-filled canals and specialized membranes in your inner ear — senses the motion of the ship as it rolls over waves.”

In VR, a mismatch also exists (though the sensory cues are reversed). Your eyes are registering movement in the virtual world, but your vestibular system remains stationary. The result – at least in many people – is the feeling of motion sickness.

Overcoming the Motion Sickness Obstacle

For those in the VR industry, motion sickness is quickly becoming a major obstacle. If someone gets sick trying a VR device for the first time, it’s unlikely that they’re going to try one again anytime soon. And to make things worse, they’re probably going to tell their friends about their nauseating experience. So it’s imperative that VR companies and app developers work together to find a solution before motion sickness becomes a big PR problem.

One of the largest pain points is the speed at which the screen refreshes. The less lag time there is between loading frames, the less likely it is that people will get sick. Headset makers have to start focusing on computational speed just as much as they’re focusing on picture quality.

Then there’s the issue with the screens being too close to human eyes. Headsets that are placed further away from the face require less eyestrain and result in less motion sickness. But the further the screen moves away from the face, the less practical the devices become. Part of the appeal to VR headsets is that they’re sleek and compact.

The good news is that there are some theories on ways to reduce motion sickness, but – as of today – there are no perfect solutions. As’s Becca Caddy explains, “Many of the big brands are addressing these issues. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR all have high frame rates, which dramatically reduce lag. But with instances of motion sickness still being reported, there's a chance it's still not fast enough—at least for certain people.”

What Does the Future Hold?

It’s entirely possible that VR, as we know it, will always cause motion sickness in certain people. After all, boats have been around for centuries and there are still people who become nauseous as soon as they board. But the hope among those in the tech industry is that some sort of solution will be discovered.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/68" rel="author">Larry Alton</a>
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.




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