Biggest problem with virtual reality: It can be a little too real for people

Vection vexing VR

ICGS The biggest brake now on virtual reality isn't the hardware or the software, but the wetware, a panel of experts told the Intel Capital Global Summit this week.

All the panelists agreed that 2016 will be the year virtual reality takes off, thanks to a combination of affordable hardware from the likes of Oculus and software developers embracing the new technology. But unfortunately there's one small problem – vection, or the feeling of movement. Sometimes virtual reality can feel a little too real: it can freak people out, disorientate them, and give them motion sickness.

"Vection describes the conflict between getting the sensation of flying or moving around in a first-person shooter game when I'm actually sitting still. It's a conflict between what my inner ear is saying versus what I'm seeing. That one I don't know how to solve – it's a very serious problem," said Dr Ronald Azuma, augmented reality leader at Intel.

The problem is illustrated in a popular piece of test software for VR kit. The subject is put in a simulation where they are standing on a metal plate, which suddenly rises high into the air and the viewer is told to take a step forward. The experience can produce a panic attack in some cases.

Of course, this feeling of being in another world is what VR is all about, but the effects can be unsettling for some people. It's this that has some in the industry concerned that VR might be too much for some people to handle, and that it could turn them off to the technology.

"What I worry about is that people will say 'I paid a lot of money for something that freaks the hell out of me,'" said Ray Davis, general manager at Epic Games.

Azuma said that one possible solution he has heard is to use electromagnetic waves to focus on the inner ear and fool it into thinking the body is in motion. "My first reaction is to say 'Sure, but you try it first,'" he remarked. ®


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