Virtual reality is, undoubtedly, good fun but it’s become so much more than just a cool way to play video games. VR has made its way into medicine, education, and even law enforcement training. However, this incredible tool is not without its negative side effects.
Cybersickness might sound like a disease from a sci-fi b-movie, but it’s actually the technical term for VR motion sickness. Nausea can last for hours, and it’s a problem that’s prevented many people from being able to participate in VR for more than few minutes. Some companies have attempted to minimize the problem, but kinesiologists at the University of Waterloo are making strides to prevent it entirely.
The study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, was conducted by the university with the goal of predicting who would be affected by cybersickness. Data from the study revealed that cybersickness is more than just a random bout of nausea and, more importantly, it could be predicted and prevented.
“Despite decreased costs and significant benefits offered by VR, a large number of users are unable to use the technology for more than a brief period because it can make them feel sick,” said Séamas Weech, postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Kinesiology and lead author of the paper. “Our results show that this is partly due to differences in how individuals use vision to control their balance. By refining our predictive model, we will be able to rapidly assess an individual’s tolerance for virtual reality and tailor their experience accordingly.”
The study involved data collected from a pool of 30 healthy individuals aged between 18 and 30. Participants were subjected a VR zero-gravity simulation, while researchers measured their swaying in response to a loss of balance. This information allowed the researchers to predict who would experience cybersickness.
This is hardly a cure, but it’s a step in the right direction. “Knowing who might suffer from cybersickness, and why, allows us to develop targeted interventions to help reduce, or even prevent, the onset of symptoms,” said Michael Barnett-Cowan, neuroscience professor in the Department of Kinesiology and senior author of the paper. Developing a counteraction to the sickness will allow more people to benefit from VR tech without fear.