Virtual reality is back in the news this week as Sony announced its system, which is quite a bit cheaper than competitors and works with the PlayStation 4 gaming console that millions of people already own.
But virtual reality will have to overcome one very big problem before it takes off: it makes some people sick.
This was one of the big knocks against the Oculus Rift, one of the first modern VR headsets, when it first started demonstrating its product in 2014, but the company (now owned by Facebook) has made a lot of strides there, mainly by improving the hardware so that that the screen refreshes faster.
But why do people get sick in the first place? Oculus founder Palmer Luckey explained to the MIT Technology Review today that it comes down to fast changes in speed:
Moving at speed doesn’t actually make people sick; once you’re moving and at equilibrium that’s fine. The issue is constant deceleration and acceleration. It’s actually the duration of that change, rather than the magnitude, that makes people change. An instant acceleration from zero to 100, like truly instant, actually makes very few people ill. But slowly ramping it up and then ramping it down is a lot more uncomfortable for a lot of people.
He also says that when a game tries to do things that would normally set off our internal system of balance — like doing a barrel roll in a fighter jet — that can be a problem: the world appears to be moving in a strange way, but our vestibular system isn’t getting the same input it normally would, so that can make us sick.
Palmer noted that the vast majority of people who use VR do not get sick, and that most of the problems that occur now are due to poorly-designed games that work with the Oculus headset.
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