Ever since VR technology began tiptoeing toward a wider market with the launch of Kickstarters for projects like the Oculus Rift, an unwelcome presence has wafted across the technology: nausea. Put simply, virtual reality makes some people seasick. It’s the reason why you’ll see the press and reviewers emphasize the importance of high frame rates. It’s why you’ll often see games with limited mobility or titles that warp you from location to location. And it’s why game developers frequently recommend taking breaks from VR titles and only playing for small amounts of time, at least at first. Now, LG thinks it can use an AI to take some of the nausea out of gaming, possibly improving player uptake in the process.
One of the principle problems with VR is that the same high-resolution techniques that can reduce nausea directly hit frame rates. At a distance of just a few inches, even 4K screens aren’t necessarily enough to avoid the screen door effect — and no VR headset currently on the market can push 4K at the 90fps targets experts often suggest are best-practices in virtual reality. Brute-forcing the problem is possible, but drives system cost up and makes wireless hardware a pipe dream, given that nobody is going to be packing a GTX 1080 Ti GPU into a smartphone any time this decade.
LG’s work with Sogang University suggests an alternate approach that’s much more bandwidth and battery-friendly, by building high-resolution images from low resolution initial starting points. According to Business Korea, using low-resolution initial assets and then constructing high-resolution final targets via AI slashed introduced photon latency and motion blur to one-fifth of current levels or less. The same team also built a precision motor system and improved optics based on the human visual cortex to improve the ability of experts to model how VR is used by humans.
“[T]his study developed a semiconductor which accelerates with low power realized through AI without an expensive GPU in a VR device,” said professor Kang Seok-ju of the Department of Electronics Engineering at Sogang University, who worked on the study over the past three years.
It’s difficult to judge just how much drag nausea exerts on the VR market, which seems somehow fitting given that we aren’t actually sure why humans get nauseated and throw up in the first place. The leading theory is that nausea results from a mismatch between the visual system (which, in VR, believes that you are moving) and reports from other components of the proprioceptive system, which reports that you aren’t. What we do know is that conditioned taste aversion — the phenomena in which we avoid certain foods after experiencing an aversive response involving nausea, sickness, or vomiting — is quite strong. We’re not very particular about it, either. As Wikipedia notes, a person who eats sushi and then goes on a roller coaster and experiences severe nausea may still wind up with an aversion to sushi, despite knowing that it was the roller coaster that actually caused the problem.
How much does this practically impact VR adoption? In the short-term, not much. The impact of high pricing and limited support are going to be far more important in the near term. That said, the difficulty of making games without making people barf probably does put some limits on what developers are willing to risk. There’s precious little upside to building a game that makes 10 percent (or even one percent) of your player base upchuck in the age of social media and YouTube reaction videos. No game studio in its right mind wants to be known as the firm behind “Unintentionally Blowing Chunks VII: Battle Royale” or whatever the equivalent would be. And given that LG isn’t currently a major player in this space, it’s not clear if any technological breakthrough would be incorporated into future products or licensed by other firms to use in their own hardware.
Top image credit: Jay Bergensen, Flickr