Virtual reality has taken the tech world by storm, with its applications branching out from video games into other industries such as manufacturing and healthcare.
However, as the technology currently stands, VR headsets carry the side effect of causing motion sickness, which is one of the major challenges that virtual reality companies are currently facing.
Users begin to feel nauseous after a certain time of using VR headsets, and for some people, that only takes a few minutes. This is not a good thing for the burgeoning industry, as companies would of course want to attract users in virtual reality as long as possible.
Now, researchers from Columbia University claimed that they have found a solution, and that is to change the field of view of users.
The motion sickness that VR headset users feel is due to the disparity between what they see and what they feel. According to the researchers, motion sickness can be drastically reduced by manipulating the field of view of users as they move about in a virtual reality environment, similar to how people see scenes through binoculars.
Manipulating the field of view means reducing the amount of the environment the user sees. The tricky part, however, is reducing it in such a way that it is enough to decrease motion sickness while not affecting the virtual reality experience.
According to the researchers, the balance between the two factors was achieved by subtly decreasing the field of view during moments when a full field of view would cause motion sickness, specifically when the mismatch between physical and virtual motion is at higher levels. On lower levels of mismatch between physical and virtual motion, the field of view is then widened.
The researchers created software that functions as "dynamic field of view restrictors," which are able to obscure the sight of the user in each eye through soft-edged cutouts. They figured out the amount of field of view that should be blocked at certain times, the speed of the reduction and restoration of field of view. They then tested the system on study participants.
Results showed that the software has promise, with two kinds of the restrictors used. For the first kind, which featured more subtle restrictors, the users did not notice the field of view changes. For the second kind, which had restrictors that were not as subtle, the users noticed the changes but stated that they would still prefer to have them in place.
Overall, the participants preferred having the restrictor software while using VR headsets than not having them, as they felt more comfortable and were able to stay in virtual reality for much longer.
"Virtual reality has the potential to profoundly change how we interact with people, machines, and information," said engineering professor and one of the researchers Steven Feiner. "It is critical that the experience be both comfortable and compelling, and we think we've found a way."
Mayo Clinic, in collaboration with entertainment technology company vMocion, is also working on a method to address motion sickness in virtual reality. Their method is a galvanic vestibular stimulation technology that shows high potential in solving this major virtual reality problem.