V for Vomit? VR Industry Grapples with Very Common User Response
Roopinder Tara posted on August 02, 2016 |
Technology can make VR acceptable, but overcoming nausea, and other human factors, will make it lika...
Should this warning appear on VR hardware?

Should this warning appear on VR hardware?

“Great, I’ve just made my friend puke,” said Mark Schoennagel, speaking on a panel of virtual reality (VR) experts at SIGGRAPH 2016 mecca for graphics technology. “He swings his head one way, and the scene catches up. He swings it the other way, and it catches up again. Then he pukes. It’s going to take an hour before he puts the headset back on.”

From being around for decades to its current status as the most hyped technology, VR is finally showing signs of being able to escape a nagging and persistent barrier to its widespread acceptance—the creeping uneasiness and growing nausea that affects many users and prevents them from using VR for any length of time.

Making Users Sick for Years

Previously known largely to geeks and gamers, VR burst into public awareness when Facebook validated the technology, paying a whopping $2 billion for Oculus. Suddenly, everybody had to get in on the act. It didn’t matter that you had to put on a deep-sea diving helmet with an umbilical to a computer or that you would stumble into furniture. What mattered was the trip you could take, the worlds you saw—if only briefly. “Here, you try it,” you’d say, giving your VR headset to the next person in a long line, trying to sound as if you weren’t going to hog the show, when, in reality, you were trying to get rid of it before you lost your lunch. You might be forgiven for stepping on their foot as you groped around your virtual world, but puking would have negated all the awesomeness of this wondrous technology.

“I’ve known about VR for 25 years—and hated it,” said Autodesk CEO Carl Bass. “Until now.”

Bass was interviewed on stage at Autodesk’s Forge DevCon earlier this year in San Francisco, where he introduced the work that Autodesk has done to alleviate VR’s puking potential.

Could this be a father saying all babies were ugly—until he has his?

Why is this man smiling? Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk (right), tells Amar Hanspal, SVP product manager at Autodesk, that VR’s day has come—finally.
Why is this man smiling? Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk (right), tells Amar Hanspal, SVP product manager at Autodesk, that VR’s day has come—finally.

Technology Answers Issues... With More Technology

Virtual reality is finally showing technological breakthroughs on many fronts that together may actually be combining to usher us into a VR age. We are starting to be able to engage in exciting, sometimes stunning, visual experiences—see “Making It (Virtually) Real”—and engineering and design software vendors are porting their 3D models into the virtual space.

Autodesk, a company that usually can be counted on be the cutting edge of technology, was showing what it is doing with VR at DevCon. PTC has declared augmented reality (AR) and VR vital for business growth, first focusing on use of AR for maintenance.

You will not puke—I promise. Merten Stroetzel of Autodesk with an HTC VR headset.
You will not puke—I promise. Merten Stroetzel of Autodesk with an HTC VR headset.

Increasing frame rates and decreasing latency due to faster and more powerful GPUs seem to be the main technological reasons why we don’t have to rip off the headset and look for a wastebasket in which to throw up.

The Nose Knows

But it may be as simple as the nose on your face, said Chantale Pitts of Cadsoft, whose company is incorporating AR into Envisioneer so customers can visualize kitchen redesigns. We may be relying on our nose, just barely visible in our far stereoscopic vision, as a reference point for what comes into our field of view. But the absence of your nose in a computer-generated view is what makes us disoriented.

Hardware companies have lost no time declaring their commitment for AR and VR technology with new or improved products. In addition to headsets, graphics cards and workstations need to be beefed up be able to create and consume VR scenes.

Storage requirements are measured in terabytes for even short VR scenes, but that is a problem solved by more memory and hard drives. However, it is the graphics requirements of VR that are truly out of this world.

A Blurry Reality

A VR user can look in any direction, unlike a user in front of a flat screen. State-of-the-art flat-screen technology has evolved to 8K resolution(7860x4320) with 4K displays (3840x2160) and is starting to be seen on more and more desks. Consumers have also enjoyed high resolutions on their flat screens, big and small. Ultra-HD televisions have 2K resolution, and smartphones can achieve the same resolution on a screen you can hold in your hand. The HTC One has a 1920x1080 resolution on a 5-inch screen.

Meanwhile, the Oculus Rift delivers a scant 1K resolution for each eye—and even that cannot always keep up with the user.

Gamers have learned to live with the low resolution, as their motion tends to blur the image anyway. But static images, such as products and buildings, look blurry with VR.

Therein lies a demand for a clarity of vision, but now in a 360 x 360 view. When combined with the demand for VR scenes to refresh per their virtual world and the necessity of smooth motion as the user moves, the graphical challenge ahead becomes clear. Improving technology should keep electrical engineers and computer scientists busy for the next couple of decades.

Designing for Humans—We Have to Like It

However, it is the human side of VR that also requires consideration for it to really catch on. Even if the physiological obstacles(nausea) are overcome, there are psychological and social obstacles to acceptance. Consumers only begrudgingly put on 3D glasses in theaters but never at home. Professionals in offices have barriers as well. It's possible to see the next great car design in its intended environment, for example, and even feel and hear the door slam solidly. However, it leaves one to wonder how silly it might look to walk around, mouth agape, taking tentative steps but still bumping into things.

I was feeling proud I didn’t vomit, but did I look like that?

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