Motion sickness is a real bummer. It basically happens when there is a mismatch between the perceived movements your eyes are reporting to your brain and what your inner ear balance system tells you.
This has been a problem for virtual worlds since what seems like forever. There are many stories of people playing classic video games like DOOM and experiencing motion sickness. Early VR was the worst culprit. Jerky motion and poor motion sensing systems meant most people could tolerate only a few minutes with a headset on.
Modern VR has gone a long way to solving this problem. An optimal VR setup with the right sort of VR experience should be perfectly comfortable for most people, but motion sickness still remains a major issue. Now one company is offering a device they say can solve the issue for good.
The company in question is called Otolith Labs. The device is a sort of white noise generator. In other words, it’s a device that creates randomized patterns which really don’t mean anything. Like static on a television screen.
In the case of their prototype device the white noise comes in the form of vibrations that flush the vestibular system with vibrations. These aren’t really audible and have the most remarkable effect on our sense of motion.
What essentially happens is that the vestibular system can’t sense motion anymore because it’s effectively being jammed. Your brain is getting no motion information from the fluid-filled tubes in your inner ear at all. Common sense would suggest that this would cause more problems than it solves, but it turns out the brain simply tunes out that sensory information, which has the happy side effect of also making motion sickness impossible.
Various attempts at curbing motion sickness have had limited success. Usually only working in very specific contexts. The OtoTech, as it has been named, purportedly works in all sorts of contexts. In VR it’s reported to work for seated, standing and room-scale experiences. The device is small enough to be attached to the headband of a headset and one day be integrated in HMDs.
Apart from VR, it can also be used in cars and on those dreaded boats. In fact, anywhere motion sickness tends to be a problem. The device is currently undergoing testing, since no one knows what the long-terms side effects might be, but should it receive medical approval it could revolutionize VR so that it becomes comfortable for everyone.