University of Columbia Develops Solution To VR Sickness

Spending time in virtual reality can be a fun and immersive experience, but some users can literally get sick of it pretty fast. VR sickness is a big problem for the burgeoning movement, and holds back more immersive and time-consuming experiences such as hardcore gaming or watching VR movies. Mostly, the sickness is due to a discrepancy between what you see and hear and what you feel, making your brain unable to decide which input to trust. One way to alleviate this is to make the preferred input source, being the VR in front of your eyes, more trustworthy. While Microsoft researchers came up with one solution, called SparseLight VR, researchers at the University of Columbia have come up with their own solution that works on the software side of things rather than requiring a hardware modification to the VR headset.

Columbia's solution uses a special polygon imposed into the scene, called a Field of View Restrictor, that flexes its focal point based on what's happening on the screen. With more going on, such as moving through an environment, it narrows, giving the user's eye less to process while things are moving along. When there's not much going on in the VR app, the polygon's middle transparent section expands. The polygon is only rendered for each eye in that eye's view, making it impossible for it to interfere with the other eye's camera view.

In order to test their solution, the University of Columbia took a survey group and had them all go through the same VR app the same way. A modified version of an Oculus tech demo contained their solution, plus a set of waypoints. They asked participants to use a game controller to navigate between these waypoints and answer questions about how they were feeling along the way. While long-term usage still took it out of all of the users, early tests indicated a huge difference for users who had the restrictors, and most didn't notice it until they were told about it. For the ones that did notice it, they almost all said that they would prefer to have it present in future VR titles. In later tests, the gap between the restrictor group and the test group shrunk a bit, but there was still a clear difference. With a software solution out there and able to be incorporated into any VR app, this could have a real shot at solving VR sickness in mainstream VR applications and allowing the field to grow.

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