Virtual reality expert doesn't see an easy fix for VR nausea

Whether you like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you might be interested in an expert's answer to 'How big an issue is the nausea problem for virtual reality products?'

Virtual reality expert doesn't see an easy fix for VR nausea
Credit: Nan Palmero

How real are virtual reality (VR) gaming experiences? If a video of a first-person shooter horror game on the HTC Vive is any indication, fairly real—at least real enough to totally freak out this chick.

I own neither Vive nor Oculus at this point, yet I built a beast of a box and am interested in HTC Vive due to SteamVR Desktop Theater Mode, which would allow a person to play every game in their Steam library in virtual reality. I can’t wait to slay VR room-sized Bitterblack Isle monsters and the continual flood of new foes on Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen.

Oculus DRM implemented and cracked

Some folks are all about the Oculus Rift. Although Oculus has some exclusive titles, LibreVR's Revive allowed Vive owners to play exclusive Oculus games. But that changed last week after Oculus released Oculus 1.4 for “bug fixes and security updates;” the new software included a DRM check to help “prevent piracy.” Revive cracked the new DRM almost immediately.

Oculus Rift may be less expensive, but it’s simply beyond my comprehension of why anyone would want Oculus since it was acquired by Facebook. The Oculus privacy policy almost immediately caused an uproar by claims such as Oculus “might be spying on you for Facebook” and “super shady things” in the Terms of Service. Nevertheless, in the same way people keep using Facebook, early adopters jumped on the Oculus band wagon. Now Oculus wants to start a DRM arms race?

While it might not prove to be true, the “Oculus Rift is dead,” according to a post on the subreddit Vive. The post makes several valid points.

VR nausea problem

Not owning a VR device might be a money thing for some at the moment, but continued reports of VR-induced nausea are a real concern. Playing for fun would be considerably less fun if playing made you feel like puking. Some people don’t get sick at all in VR, but enough do that Mayo Clinic and Microsoft Research are both working on fixes for “Simulator Sickness.”

So, it was a bit depressing to read on Quora the answer to “How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products?” According to Steve Baker, an expert in helmet-mounted displays and the “most viewed” writer in augmented reality (AR), the “devices should be banned.” You likely will get sick—even hours after playing. It could be enough that it could be like “driving under the influence” one to two days after being in a VR environment.

Baker shot down claims of the nausea problem soon being fixed. He has decades of experience with helmet displays for military flight simulation, writing that the $80,000 goggles “made for the U.S. military had less latency, higher resolution displays, and more accurate head tracking than any of the current round of civilian VR goggles … and they definitely made people sick—so this seems unlikely.”

Worse still, there is strong research evidence that the harm they cause extends for as much as eight hours AFTER you stop using the goggles.

Baker breaks down the problems, such a depth perception, at one point comparing the problem to a caveman eating a magic mushroom: the brain panicking, then feeling “very, very nauseous.” He added, “That problem can’t be fixed by any known technological means. ... So for that reason alone—people will always get sick with VR displays UNLESS the content is kept farther than around 3 meters from them.” He also explained momentum from the perspective of a caveman’s brain.

VR demos tend to last only a few moments, something most people can tolerate, but he gave the following Simulator Sickness example:

When I worked on a team of a dozen people developing applications for the Oculus display—we each had a headset and a foam dummy head to put it on when not in use. We were developing both software and content—and we knew what we were doing because we were a highly experienced team. If you stood in that lab you’d notice something significant … nobody was wearing their Oculus. Sometimes—rarely—they’d put it on to check something, then take it off again within 30 seconds. We would mostly look at the side-by-side displays on a regular monitor. Most of us were very glad when that project wound down.

Baker isn't the only one to relate such a tale. Kotaku’s Keza MacDonald wrote, “After a morning’s worth of different Rift games, I felt disorientated, a touch nauseous, and distinctly headachey. After five hours, I felt like I needed a lie-down in a dark room.”

Baker noted that a U.S. Navy study on simulator sickness concluded there are significant delayed effects after being inside a VR environment. In fact, the Navy suggested that some people shouldn’t drive or fly after VR. Some people experienced delayed problems that exceed six to eight hours, and a smaller percent can be affected by sim sickness for one to two days.

Baker added, “So driving a car while ‘under the influence’ of post-VR disorientation is probably as dangerous as drunk driving.” Good luck explaining that to a cop. If VR companies don’t warn consumers, they could be liable.

Although Baker wants “a holodeck as much as the next red-blooded geek,” he said that in his opinion, “these consumer-grade VR devices should be carefully studied. And if they do cause possible driving impairment, they should be banned until such time as the problems can be fixed … which may very well be ‘never.’ Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”

I highly encourage you to read his excellent answer in full.

HoloLens

So that we don’t end on a depressing note, you might be interested in a review of Microsoft’s HoloLens on IEEE Spectrum.

Rod Furlan wrote, “Microsoft’s efforts amount to the most impressive device I have had a chance to work with in a long time. This is not a statement I make lightly, because my position at Lucidscape Technologies, a research lab specializing in virtual and augmented reality, affords me the opportunity to experience a wide range of related technology on a daily basis.”

While the Development Edition does have shortcomings, Furlan claims, “It is clear that future iterations of the HoloLens could profoundly change how we relate to our computers and even to our environment. Wearing a HoloLens feels like having a glimpse of an unfinished future.”

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.