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Expert Insights, Virtual Reality, VR Training

A recent article published on declared, essentially, that virtual reality has finally become reality-reality: it’s here to stay. But the article was quick to point out that, despite the progress VR technology has made in recent years — better, more cost-effective hardware, streamlined user experience, radical advances in animation, etc. — one key problem has annoyingly persisted: nausea.

Motion sickness. Vertigo. Sea-sickness. Car-sickness. Butterflies. Queasiness — whatever you call it, we all hate it, and as a Virtual Reality Training company, it’s one of the most common questions we’re asked at conferences and expos: “will it make me sick?” While our answer to that question is a confident “No”, (more on that in a minute), not all VR companies can say the same, despite the evolution of our industry. 

The simple fact is: not all virtual reality is created equal.

So we thought it made some sense to briefly explore why some virtual reality experiences can cause motion sickness and why, in the three years we’ve been designing and engineering VR Training modules for enterprise, we’ve never seen or heard anyone complain of getting that awful, upset feeling.

How and Why Does Motion Sickness Happen?

Let’s start by understanding the phenomenon of motion sickness and nausea a little better from a scientific perspective.

Reason One: Battle Of The Senses

In a nutshell, the primary reason we feel motion sickness comes down to our ‘perception of reality’, so to speak.

Most of us are born with a central nervous system that helpfully provides us with five essential senses that allow us to move through physical reality with at least a basic idea of what the heck’s going on around us, (not counting what we experience while driving on the freeway, which is anyone’s guess). Those senses are: sight (vision), hearing (audition), taste (gustation), smell (olfaction), and touch (somatosensation).

When there’s “argument” between these five senses, our brain gets confused.

For instance, think of the sensation in the pit of your stomach one gets on an elevator. Though your body is in rapid motion on an elevator car, you, yourself, are not really moving. The effect it produces is typically slight, but definitely noticeable. (The same thing goes with car sickness while riding, or reading, in an automobile.)

Essentially, you’re experiencing a sensory mismatch and your brain — always gamely trying to make sense of the world it’s in — doesn’t like it.

There’s more complex science behind all this, of course, but at root, what we feel is a tug-of-war between groups of senses to determine “who’s right”: the vestibular inputs (concerned with balance and located in your inner ear), the visual inputs (associated with your eyes), or the kinaesthetic inputs (which assist in movement).

Reason Two: When Seeing Isn’t Believing

Beyond the issue of multiple senses battling it out to determine what’s real, there’s also a problem specific to our sense of vision, (and by extension, the brain’s ability to process images).

You see, in the real world, as the name suggests, things are more or less real. (We could nerd-out here about probability clouds and whatnot, or make the argument that our brains are the ultimate virtual reality machines, but for now let’s keep things simple and say boldly, Things Exist.)

When we walk to the store, or take a shower, or do anything at all, the things we’re seeing are really there, in what we consider physical reality. Our eyes may play tricks on us from time to time, but the persons, places, and things they observe occupy time and space and are mostly static and unchanging. They obey the laws of physics.

Not so in virtual reality.

In VR, the images we see have to be dynamically generated and refresh to reflect new simulated realities — constantly and incredibly rapidly.

Think of a flip-book: to create the illusion of motion, a large number of static images must rapidly pass by our eyes and convince our brain that the figures we see are moving and doing things. “Good” flipbooks have many more images, more precisely drawn, and thus appear more fluid and natural when flipped-through than “bad” flipbooks that have fewer images and produce hiccupy jumps — what we call ‘lag’ — in their attempts at motion.  

“Good” and “bad” virtual reality operates in a similar way.

How We Overcome VR Motion Sickness

PIXO VR has successfully fought motion sickness and greatly reduced any chance of it happening using two important methods.

Method One: A Frame Rate ‘Faster Than The Eye Can Think’

To combat the issue of lag, our Virtual Reality Training simulations have a refresh frame rate of 90 FPS (frames per second). That means every time you turn left or right, or look up or down, these individual, static images of the virtual world around you — the people, machines, birds, cars, etc. —are zooming by your eyes (and brain) at an almost entirely unnoticeable rate of 90 images per second, just like an ultra-fast, photo-realistic, digital flipbook.

By offering a superior, industry-best 90 FPS frame rate, we help put the brain at ease that the things it observes through the eyes are, (to the best of its ability to tell), really there.

Not all virtual reality runs and refreshes at this amazing pace, which is why some VR (not ours, but some), can make people feel physically ill.

Method Two: ‘Going Nowhere…Fast’

The second way we’ve conquered motion sickness is by addressing what we discussed earlier: the cognitive dissonance created in the brain when groups of senses compete to “explain” what’s happening to our physical bodies. While some amount of actual bodily motion is helpful and, indeed, necessary to explore and train in a fully immersive and interactive VR environment, too much motion can produce that feeling of nausea, as we’ve mentioned.

To avoid the jostling, brain-flummoxing disconnect between what our eyes see happening, and what our bodies feel happening, we use a technique we call “teleporting”.

Teleporting is a simple, elegant solution to the problem of moving — physically and virtually — through a simulated, photo-realistic world. Using your thumb to depress a button on our hand-held controllers, you simply point to your intended destination, your pathway is illuminated, and by the time you release the button — you’re there. No extra motion necessary; it can be done while sitting in a comfortable chair.

Teleporting helps in a couple of ways: first, by limiting the degree to which your brain and body feel differing sensations, and thus, greatly reducing the chances of motion sickness. Second, teleporting makes navigating a to-scale VR environment far simpler, easier, and quicker.

After all, if one were to attempt to physically explore a 20,000 square-foot photo-realistic VR workspace, it would, of course, require 20,000 square feet of empty space in the physical world, to say nothing of the requisite time needed to travel by foot from one end to the other, and so forth. If this were how VR worked, the time and space-saving advantages of Virtual Reality Training would be completely lost.

So, anyway, that’s how virtual reality can induce motion sickness — and two big reasons why PIXO VR experiences never have in the three years we’ve been pioneering Virtual Reality Training for enterprise clients.

Have you ever suffered motion sickness after using VR? We invite you to try ours and experience the difference.