Computer graphics researchers at Purdue University have discovered that the onset of simulator sickness, a form of motion sickness experienced with VRHMDs, can be delayed through the use of virtual reality noses.
Simulator sickness is most commonly believed to result from cue conflict. Cue conflict holds that simulator sickness occurs when a person’s eyes and ears receive conflicting information as to whether the person is moving or not: the eyes keep track of movement in the game, but liquid-filled vestibular tubes in the ear don’t detect any motion, and this results in disorientation and sickness.
The researchers at the university discovered that fixed points of reference, such as car dashboards in driving simulators and plane cockpits in flight simulators, are less likely to induce sickness. This is where they got the idea for the virtual nose, or “nasum virtualis”, as the researchers call it.
“You are constantly seeing your own nose. You tune it out, but it’s still there, perhaps giving you a frame of reference to help ground you,” says Whittinghill, an assistant professor on the project.
To test their nasal theory, the researchers had 41 players try two VR experiences—the now well-known Tuscany villa and rollercoaster. Some of the players had virtual noses attached inside the simulation, while others did not, but none of the subjects were told about the virtual nose’s existence. Subjects who visited Tuscany with the nose attached lasted an average of 94.2 seconds longer without feeling sick than those without. Those who tried the rollercoaster with the VR noses felt sick a whole 2.2 seconds later than the control subjects.
“Surprisingly, subjects did not notice the nasum virtualis while they were playing the games, and they were incredulous when its presence was revealed to them later in debriefings,” Whittinghill said.
This may not be the silver bullet for the problem of simulation sickness, but it’s an interesting development. The research is ongoing, and the overall goal is to create a fully predictive model so people can know what level of simulator sickness can be expected from a given virtual reality experience. The nose was just a side discovery.