If you’ve heard about the motion sickness issue in Virtual Reality, Mayo Clinic may have just solved it with the development of an exciting technology.
March 30, 2016
Written by: Jason Evangelho
Mayo Clinic may have just solved VR motion sickness
There’s no denying the power virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive possess to make you feel physically present in a non-physical world, but there’s one drawback that degrades its appeal and presents a real obstacle to VR software developers: motion sickness. Apparently the Mayo Clinic has been hunkered down for 11 years trying to solve this very problem, and today they’re announcing the commercial availability of the technology they’ve been developing. It’s a bit difficult to wrap your head around, but it’s incredibly exciting.
First let’s outline why so many of us can suffer motion sickness in VR. While it’s not as common as it was a few years ago with early Oculus Rift dev kits, it definitely restricts the kind of games and experiences being developed right now. VR sickness (sometimes called simulator sickness) results from a visual and vestibular mismatch. I’ve made the mistake of associating it more with a conflict between what your eye is seeing and what your brain believes, but that’s not entirely accurate according to Mayo Clinic scientists.
You hear a lot about VR needing to deliver a solid 90fps framerate. Some neat advances have been made on the hardware side of VR technology such as Oculus’ Asynchronous Time Warp, which is a fancy way of saying they can generate extra frames when and if a game can’t maintain that desired 90fs sweet spot. This helps reduce judder, which contributes to motion sickness.
But the motion sickness is actually happening because our vestibular system — a complicated sensory system in our inner ear that provides balance and spatial orientation — is out of whack. When we walk a character through a room in a VR game without walking ourselves, a mismatch happens because we don’t feel that motion represented in 3D space. Our brain instantly notices that discrepancy between what you’re seeing and what you’re feeling. It’s why you see a lot of early VR games using “blinking” to teleport a player from one spot to the next instead of physically walking them there. It’s why, right now, we’ll never see a traditional shooter like Call of Duty or Destiny ported to VR.
The Mayo Clinic has patented a new technology called Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS), which synchronizes your inner ear to what a person is viewing. Using that Call of Duty scenario, imagine feeling the sensation of sprinting toward cover, of jumping up to a rooftop, or even something as extreme as jumping off that rooftop. What about a movie like Avatar where the viewer can actually feel the sensation of flight? Imagine what this could do for a VR roller coaster simulator like NoLimits 2, just as one existing example.
What’s so cool is that GVS was originally developed at Mayo Clinic’s Aerospace Medicine & Vestibular Research Lab (AMVRL) to mitigate simulator sickness among pilots. Jan Stepanek, M.D. and co-director of AMVRL explains that “while this particular technology was licensed to vMocion for the media and entertainment industries, it’s rooted in medical research, and the potential medical applications for GVS are also very exciting.”
Stepanek goes on to mention that GVS can alleviate balance disorders like vertigo and improve balance overall.
Los Angeles-based startup vMocion has secured the exclusive global license to use Mayo Clinic’s GVS technology in commercial products, and that’s where things get real. The platform they’ve developed can be integrated into existing operating systems, devices like VR or AR glasses, smartphones, and TVs. A representative for the company tells me that vMocion’s platform can use any existing game to create that sense of motion. Game developers technically wouldn’t need to add any additional code to their games, provided the platform they’re developing for supports vMocion’s technology. It would automatically sync movement seen onscreen to four stimulation points, thus delivering that believable sensation of movement to the inner ear.
vMocion’s 3v software is available now for licensing to media and entertainment companies.
These are fascinating times, and I’ll keep a keen eye out for commercial manifestations of this technology. I can’t help but imagine it’s something companies like Sony , HTC HTCCY +%, and Oculus would consider adopting. It also stands to bring entirely new experiences to the entertainment industry, especially theater-goers.
Isn’t living in the future awesome?