When Virtual Reality Gets Real: Overcoming VR Motion Sickness
Will our future add more Marvel to our workdays, or will it end up experiencing VR sickness and seeking comfort while struggling with metaverse technologies?
When physics, chemistry and biology are the technologies of our natural surrounding environment, the human sense organs are the devices to perceive and to interact with those technologies. To experience new, artificial environments like the metaverse, additional technologies are required to extend human perception as our natural senses are unlikely to change anytime soon.
While multiple technologies related to the metaverse shape its mechanics, abilities, and behavior, two main technologies are intended for experiencing or immersing oneself in the metaverse. First, there is virtual reality (VR) which provides the user with the highest immersion into artificial environments. The second concept is augmented reality (AR) that is mainly about adding additional visual information and content to the natural reality.
But there is one significant difference between the VR and AR technologies compared to most new developments of the past. AR and VR are not just about learning how to use and work with it efficiently in a business context. Furthermore, the question is whether users can tolerate the experience from a health point of view. This article covers aspects to consider when using metaverse technologies, that provide the users with a whole different sensory perception and work experience.
Working in the Metaverse
Having new artificial worlds to replace reality respectively to tackle its shortcomings, the question is, whether parts of our lives will switch to the metaverse in the future and if so to what extent. How about wearing a VR headset for several hours a day to execute work tasks more immersive and intuitively in the metaverse instead of working at a desk using a personal computer? Let’s have a look at the useability and oftentimes individual limitations of VR technology (as of 2023).
Immersing oneself in a virtual environment, world or the metaverse in general using a VR headset sounds promising but is it comfortable to wear them like subscription glasses? Packed with high-tech like displays, microphones, speakers, tracking-sensors and computing units, the devices come at a certain weight. In the case of Meta’s Quest 2 this corresponds to between 500g (about 1.1 lb.) to 650g (about 1.4 lb.). The Meta Quest Pro puts 722 g (about 1.6 lb.) on the scale. Usual prescription- or sunglasses come at 30g to 50g (about 0.1 lb.). That makes VR devices at least 10x heavier and their wearing time especially in a professional usage and business context a factor to consider carefully. Users might simply not be able to stay several hours in a metaverse VR environment.
Freedom of Movement
When it comes to VR applications for the metaverse it’s like for gaming in VR as there are two ways (or application types) to step into the virtual realities of the metaverse. The first one is running a VR application standalone on a VR headset. This requires a certain CPU power from the headset and moderate performance needs from the application itself to ensure a smooth experience. Users benefit from great freedom of movement as no cable is required – in contrast to the second type of VR application, the PC VR.
The second application type is PC VR which requires the VR device to be connected to a PC to use its GPU for processing. In most cases, a PC VR connection requires a cable or a fast router to establish a so called airlink. Benefit for the user, is the greater quality possible with using the connected PC’s GPU for rendering VR content. The downside of course is the cable that can limit the freedom of movement.
VR Motion Sickness – What is it and why does it happen?
Symptoms mainly known from motion sickness, nausea or dizziness can also occur from the exposure to virtual environments as simulator- or VR sickness. The cause for both kinds of sickness is similar: sensory conflicts when a user’s perception of self-motion is unexpected or incongruent to visual inputs (to the eyes) and/or inputs to the vestibular system (to the inner ears and their sense of balance).
Imagine, in virtual reality, the eyes receive the information that the user is moving. However, the inner ears sense that there is no real physical movement occurring as the user’s body isn’t moving at all. This discord between eyes (visual) and ears (vestibular) is one of the main reasons that can cause virtual reality sickness but by far not the only one.
The perception of movements is also crucial for the experienced content itself. Imagine a virtual full body avatar standing in front of you performing a certain action like pointing at something. The human brain is used to patterns and movement of arms and hands pointing at something. But what happens if the avatar animation can’t keep pace with the user turning head? That can result in a weird or even uncanny experience for the user and an overall reduced sensory and processing acceptance of the contents. Such reduction of acceptance can also contribute to experiencing VR motion sickness.
Understanding the causes and finding solutions for VR motion sickness
Another possible cause of VR sickness is technological specs like resolution and refresh rate of a VR headset’s displays. In terms of refresh rate, it’s like what we know from television. If the TV can’t produce at least 24 FPS (frames per second), the human eye and image processing aren’t satisfied in terms of accepting that the visual input is continuous and natural. That can lead to the perception of glitches, eye-fatigue or even headache. Same is true for the display resolution. The higher it is (combined with a high refresh rate), the more pleasant and calm is content perceived. Think of the difference between SD (standard definition) and HD (high definition) on televisions. Of course, all that is also valid and even more profound for displays put directly in front of the eyes like the case when using a VR headset.
Besides being in VR for longer periods of time, further parameters like field of view and viewing angle can provoke VR or motion sickness. With a greater field of view, it is more likely to develop symptoms of motion sickness. The same is true when looking at extreme angles in VR like if a user looks downward, right to where usually legs and shoes are expected. So, the more of the virtual environment a user can perceive and the longer a VR session lasts, the more susceptible for motion sickness users can get.
Susceptibility to motion sickness in VR
As developing symptoms of VR motion sickness is highly individual, no one can tell in general whether a VR application will cause it or not. Within that range of individual susceptibility, the following aspects (among others) are the most relevant.
- Postural stability: Susceptibility tends to be higher when standing (less stable) than experience VR in a seated position (more stable)
- VR experience: First time VR users tend to be more vulnerable to motion sickness in VR than experienced users (already with the 2nd experience)
- Flicker: People with a low threshold for detecting flicker seem to be less susceptible for VR motion sickness
- Age: Users at a younger age (2-12 years) usually have a higher probability to experience VR sickness. This susceptibility decreases tremendously till the age of about 21 and continues to decrease (but slower) after that age
- Health: Not being at full health can increase susceptibility to motion sickness in VR
- Mental rotation ability: A good mental rotation ability (skill to rotate mental representations of 2D or 3D objects) is likely to reduce VR motion sickness susceptibility
The symptoms of motion sickness from VR can range from slight head pressure, perceived or real eyestrain (when eyes need to perform unusual adaptation work) to headaches and feeling dizzy or nausea. In worse cases, it could be like experiencing being seasick.
Fortunately, the quick cure for VR motion sickness is simple – stop the experience! As soon as the experience causing VR motion sickness is interrupted or stops, the symptoms will reduce and vanish in most cases within short periods of time. Motion sickness from VR won’t last for days but will usually vanish in between a few minutes and up to an hour after returning to the reality the user is used to.
Overcoming Motion Sickness in VR
The probability of motion sickness can effectively be decreased by the design of VR environments and especially how users move within them. Steady walking (like in reality) for example can be replaced by teleporting from one position to another. That eliminates the actual movement, and the user just perceives position A and position B without getting confused by the way from A to B.
Another measure against motion sickness is snap-turning which follows a similar idea as teleporting. Instead of a steady turning movement by pressing a joystick right or left, the user’s virtual body is turned in a predefined angle without any noticeable movement that could cause confusion. In addition to turning the whole virtual body, head movement is possible as well but due to the tracking- and movement sensors of VR headsets with one big difference: Movement and perception are mostly in sync with the senses (inner ears) as the virtual environment behaves almost like reality.
So, as long as VR environments and controls are designed properly, the danger of experiencing virtual reality sickness can be reduced and most first-time users get used to VR experiences pretty fast and intuitively.
One question remains – what does all that mean in a business context, when VR devices increasingly might find their way into certain areas of everyday business?
With the unpredictable probability of virtual reality sickness for some users while others tolerate the artificial sensory input with less or without issues, it’s obvious, that for business applications and tasks where VR turns out to be beneficial, it can’t be or become the only option. So, for most business use cases where VR turns out to be beneficial, the respective solution or application needs to work with reasonable efficiency on two tracks – 3D in VR using dedicated hardware and 2D using common screens.
What measures are there to make VR technology in the business context as compatible as possible?
- Habituation: Users susceptible to VR motion sickness can get used to the artificial environments as the sensory processing is adaptive to a certain degree (individually). So, if issues with VR sickness occur, it can help to get used to it slowly. Starting with a brief period in VR and increasing that several times by 5 or 10 minutes, for example.
- Application design: Following general guidelines in designing VR apps for business both visually and interactively, can tremendously decrease the probability of motion sickness in VR. An example is how the user moves within the VR environment – clearly, teleporting is to prefer over constant moving.
- Lens technology: Some users might tolerate one lens technology better than the other. So, VR sickness susceptibility can decrease or vanish by just using another VR device. Fresnel lenses for example can have a greater field of view compared to Pancake lenses but are prone to optical irritations like ghosting or overlapping colors. Pancake lenses have a thinner and lighter form factor along with a picture which is oftentimes perceived as calmer.
- Mixed workday: It’s doubtful, that a workday will soon be about wearing VR headsets for eight hours straight. Nevertheless, enterprises with the intention to introduce VR technology in their everyday business should already aim for mixed scenarios of screen-, VR- and analogous times for their employees.
- No disadvantages: Let’s imagine that VR technology will become a massive part of our everyday work in the next ten years and become as normal as working on screens. Then what about the people who are prone to VR motion sickness – who just can’t handle virtual environments? To outline a disadvantage here today is certainly an exaggeration – but perhaps today’s awareness prevents it from being necessary in the future.
Further information for you
- Virtual Reality for business and enterprise applications
- Eye control software and it’s role for VR glasses
- Metaverse and Virtual Reality: a little misconception
- How Virtual Reality shapes the Future of Work
- Metaverse Technology – An intersection of trending concepts and technologies
- Web3 Explained
Managing Motion Sickness: Lessons Learned
VR motion sickness is a challenge for the Metaverse that must be taken. Virtual reality and metaverse based applications in the enterprise and everyday business context are different from introducing immersive technologies in other areas like gaming for instance. If you don’t feel well during VR gaming, you can put the headset aside to either get used to it over time, to try a different game you might tolerate better, or you realize that VR gaming just isn’t for you. The latter may be a pity, but nothing more.
Now for business, let’s suppose VR was the only way to complete a work task in a metaverse environment. Putting aside the experience (or in this case the business application) wouldn’t be an option. So, the transition to immersive business applications needs to be smooth and non-disruptive considering the human condition related aspects. Furthermore, accomplishing work tasks needs to remain possible and efficient using different user interfaces.
What does an immersive business or industrial metaverse look like? While that’s far from fully defined, one thing is clear. A virtual, immersive environment – especially one for business – needs to follow certain rules and interaction concepts. Imagine leaving your apartment and suddenly dealing with different physics. And while walking into the kitchen as usual, getting to the bathroom is only possible via teleport. Such conceptual changes would be confusing and sooner than later annoying. To achieve reliability for metaverse in business, certain design and interaction guidelines are required to not need users to adapt to things, that should come intuitively – after one learned to walk in the virtual reality.
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