The Secret to Ending VR Sickness? Fake Noses

November 2, 2016

9:15 am

The fake nose is most famous as the main element in a goofy all-in-one disguise that includes glasses and a mustache. You know the one. But in 2017, the fake nose might emerge as the most unexpected yet essential component of the most cutting-edge VR.

The reason lies in VR-related motion sickness, a problem that threatens to majorly dent the expected influx of virtual reality headsets.

The Problem

VR sickness is impossible to avoid, both for those afflicted by it and those who are relying on VR to shape the future of entertainment. Here’s a quick look at what this sort of motion sickness feels like, via GamesRadar:

“VR sickness doesn’t creep up slowly. It’s fast and unrelenting. One second you’re fine, taking in the instantly impressive 360 view of a living, roaring rally track, the next, there’s a thin layer of sweat covering your entire body and there’s an immediate desire to yank off the headset just to make it all stop.”

And here’s David Whittinghill, an associate professor of computer graphics technology and computer information technology in Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute, in an article for Yahoo:

“Motion-to-photon latency, which is the time it takes for you to turn your head and the screen to refresh at the same rate, is one of the main culprits of VR sickness. If latency is present then the photons that represent the scene strike your retina out of sync with your head’s motion.”

The basic problem is that a user sees simulated locomotion while experiencing none. The disconnect is too much. So how can those two separate realities be bridged? Perhaps by the bridge of a fake nose.

The Solution

When one of Whittinghill’s students played a VR game in which he piloted an airplane, he realized that he wasn’t as sick as normal: The cockpit was functioning as a point of reference that remained the same no matter how the plane itself moved. Since the point of reference stayed stable, it helped anchor the user and erased the sickness-inducing disconnect.

What else serves as a general point of reference? Your own nose, which you can see in the corner of your vision constantly, Whittinghill explains:

“Of course we realized a cockpit wasn’t going to work for every game, so after hitting the research literature on perception, and working through a bunch of ideas we eventually decided to try inserting a nose into the user’s field of view. For instance, in the animal kingdom every terrestrial predator can see its nose, so if it were a problem it seems like it would have evolved out. We surmised that being able to see one’s nose was likely adaptive – a feature rather than a bug.”

Throwing together a research team, Whittinghill was even able to back up his fake nose hypothesis: A group given a fake nose was able to view a VR roller coaster ride with measurably less sickness than a control group on the same ride.

Image: Wikimedia

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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