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Virtual Reality Illness Fix in Development

Man in virtual reality headset

(PublicDomainPNG, Pixabay)

17 Dec. 2018. A computer science and engineering team in Texas is developing a technical solution for virtual reality experiences that can make some users physically ill, with symptoms like seasickness. Researchers at University of Texas in San Antonio are designing an algorithm to fix the problem they call Cyberwell, with financial support from Intel Corporation.

The team led by San Antonio computer science professor John Quarles is addressing the problem of cybersickness, as it’s known, often encountered by people who are not frequent virtual reality users. The body’s natural system of balance is controlled by a series of canals in our ears known as the vestibular system that detects gravity and movement, and coordinated with visual and other sensory input and integrated in the brain. With virtual reality, the user’s sensory input can conflict sharply with the signals sent from that person’s vestibular system, which causes the symptoms. Unlike motion sickness, no motion is required, but the results are similar: headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

“Imagine you are driving in a virtual car,” says Quarles in a university statement. “You think you are driving forward in a car, but your sense of balance will tell you that you are not driving forward. There is a conflict between two sensory systems, theoretically that’s what makes you nauseous.”

Quarles is director of the San Antonio Virtual Environments, or SAVE lab, that studies cybersickness, and other aspects of virtual reality. The lab’s new project aims to develop Cyberwell, an algorithm that anticipates and corrects for the illness-generating effects in virtual reality. “We are studying what is causing (cybersickness) and how we can predict it earlier,” Quarles adds. “What are the aspects of each individual that we can use to predict better and personalize reducing cybersickness?”

The San Antonio project team includes colleagues from the university’s business and engineering departments, as well as computer science, with backgrounds in artificial intelligence and bioinformatics. The researchers expect to experiment with physiological reactions, such as electroencephalograms or EEGs and galvanic skin responses to simulated virtual reality experiences that they will feed into deep learning models, a form of artificial intelligence. Those models will then help indicate the point in virtual reality experiences when cybersickness occurs. The team hopes the algorithm will enable virtual reality developers to make adjustments in the individual user’s experience to prevent cybersickness before it happens.

The researchers believe the condition affects between half and 80 percent of virtual reality users, particularly those who are not regular users of these systems. As a result, cybersickness is considered an impediment to wider adoption of virtual reality. The university cites data from Orbis Research indicating the virtual reality market expects to grow to about $40 billion by 2020.

Intel Corp., the company funding the project, has a lot invested in the technologies underlying virtual reality. Just today, Intel announced a partnership with the Turner sports television network to broadcast professional basketball games that can be experienced with virtual reality headsets.

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