The so-called solutions to the proverbial problem of VR motion sickness reads like a 1970s hippy's hit list: eat ginger, put on an acupuncture wristband, aim a fan at your face, take Dramamine, smoke weed…
Wouldn't it be novel to put on a headset and just not want to puke?
Developers have tackled the issue since the dawn of market-ready VR - the 'Virtual Reality nose' fell flat on its face – and it's an issue that won't go away. Back in 2016 we broke down the whys and wherefores of 'vomit reality' and two years on we're still none the wiser when it comes to finding a solution.
Or are we? Let's take a look at some recent chunder-repelling ideas.
MonkeyMedia, a small tech team in Austin, Texas, have created BodyNav, a solution that does away with controllers and hand controls and instead relies on slight adjustments of the head, neck, and torso for in-game locomotion – lean forward and you walk forward, lean sideways and you strafe, you get the idea.
MonkeyMedia's CEO Eric Bear, who has been working as an inventor and media artist with virtual and augmented reality for 25 years, developed BodyNav by remapping the control axes in a headset; something he says he originally did by inserting a code he'd developed for his Walk-in Theater iPad app (the company's first patent) to try and solve his own issues with motion sickness in 2016.
It was the direct change in his own experience that spurred him on to develop BodyNav as a standalone application that doesn't need any extra hardware.
"By having motion be driven by tilting your body position in space – moving your head or your torso – the entire vestibular system [our suite of senses] is synchronised," Bear told Wareable. "And that's how we magically discovered that we had solved motion sickness in VR.
"My hopes go beyond just not making people sick," he continued. "That's not exciting, you've got to do that just to make things not suck. I have a background in dance, thinking about people in space. And what we've noticed is that when people use BodyNav they have a greater sense of presence in VR and what that means is that people have a greater sense of affinity for the content and characters that they're engaging with."
MonkeyMedia has made the BodyNav software available for licensing to game developers so expect to hear more soon.
In the Band
Drone pilots hit up Reddit forums all the time for advice on tackling motion sickness and the responses range from 'lean against something or try sitting' to wear a copper bracelet. The wrist-based solution is more than a viable one.
Four years ago, Reliefband Technologies released a wearable to treat nausea. Rather than a solution for the VR sector alone the band is aimed at chronic sickness sufferers, from travel to vertigo. It was developed for use in hospitals; the 'drug-free' and 'doctor-recommended' strapline tells you all you need to know.
The Reliefband works using neuromodulation, zapping the median nerve on the underside of the wrist in order to stimulate and regulate the body's neural pathways and ultimately control queasiness. As a medical solution it's ideal but it's also easy to see why it might not be a viable scalable model for the casual virtual reality market.
Also, as is the case with any exogenous solution, they cost a pretty penny. The latest iteration of the FDA-approved Reliefband 2.0, announced at CES this year, costs $175. If you've already sunk hundreds or thousands into a high end set up, though, it might be worth it.
The Eyes have It
Surely any cost-effective lasting solution must be built-in to the headsets if the global VR market is going to meet its predicted $48.5 billion worth by 2025.
The eyes have a terrible time of it in VR – as our piece on the subject explores here – and if restricting field of vision is one way to reduce motion sickness then Qualcomm's newly announced VR dev kit using the latest Snapdragon 845 processor could well lay the foundations for future headset iterations.
Announced at GDC, the non-commercial kit, promises full 'inside-out' or six-degrees motion tracking but the standout feature is eye-tracking, something that could close the gap between what's going on in the virtual world and what your senses are telling your brain.
Now HTC has a history of using Qualcomm's chipsets and it has invested in eye tracking startups via its Vive X accelerator. The standalone Vive Focus VR headset, originally launched in China and now getting a global release later this year, uses the Snapdragon 835. So there's every chance we could see this new tech implemented in consumer-ready headsets by the end of the year.
Furthermore, both Google and Facebook have bought eye-tracking companies in the last few years suggesting it's a technology we'll see far more of over the coming months from Oculus and Daydream too.
The hugely simplified explanation of motion sickness is that it occurs because our senses are giving our brain conflicting information. Because most VR experiences rely on a passive physical involvement that's a hard thing to solve without some in-built jiggery-pokery.
Step up motion simulators. Yaw VR, founded by Zslot Szigetlaki, looks like a wheelbarrow and imitates the kiddie coin-up rides of your past rotating and swaying with the movements of the body as you do whatever it is you're doing in VR.
It also folds away into a compact space but even so, it's just another thing to unpack and pack up when you're down for playing some VR. It reached its Kickstarter goal earlier this year raising $219,000, though, and is scheduled to start shipping in August.
Bye bye sickness?
As we can see there isn't a one size fits all panacea for motion sickness in VR but, if taken up and adapted by developers, these technologies could be the first few step towards a new wave of sick-less virtual reality experiences – and let's be honest, queasy-based VR content. Honestly, there are only so many sick-based puns we can deploy.
That said, motion sickness is only one part of the problem. There are far more questions surrounding VR than there are answers, from psychophysiological implications to the ethics of time spent under the hood and there's still a long road ahead. But maybe, just maybe, with so many motion sickness solutions emerging we're turning a corner and we can start to think about putting away those virtual sick bags for good.
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