Microsoft Research Solves Oculus Rift Headset Virtual Reality Nausea With Cheap Periphery LEDs

We're seeing some exciting developments in the realm of virtual reality, though one of the persisting challenges is nausea. It doesn't affect everyone, but it affects enough people that it's a point of focus when developing VR hardware and software. Microsoft believes it's come up with a relatively cheap and easy solution, one that uses an array of LEDs to extend a headset's horizontal field of view.

Humans have a natural horizontal field of view of more than 180 degrees, much higher than what's offered by augmented reality and VR headsets like Microsoft's own HoloLens (100 degrees) and the Oculus Rift (120 degrees). According to Microsoft, the comparatively small field of view offered by today's headsets makes the VR experience "more akin to looking through bi-oculars, limiting the sense of presence in the virtual scene."

Microsoft SparseLightVR

Microsoft's solution is to augment the field of view with sparse peripheral displays. These consist of lightweight, low-resolution, inexpensively produced LED arrays that surround the central high-resolution display. The LED arrays don't need to be high resolution because what you see in your peripheral vision in real life isn't as sharply focused as what you see right in front of you.

To test the technology, Microsoft built two prototype headsets. One is called SparseLightVR, which places 70 LEDs on the sides of an Oculus Rift to expand the horizontal field of view to 170 degrees. The other prototype, called SparseLightAR, uses 112 LEDs to expand the field of view of Samsung Gear VR headsets to 190 degrees.

In both cases, the LEDs change color to match the surroundings as you look around. This inexpensive solution simulates peripheral vision so that you feel more immersed in the virtual world. In combination with something called peripheral countervection motion, which creates a motion effect in the peripheral opposing any motion that does not directly originate from the headset wearer's head motion, Microsoft says nausea is less likely to occur.

"Our findings show that sparse peripheral displays are useful in conveying peripheral information and improving situational awareness, are generally preferred, and can help reduce motion sickness in nausea-susceptible people," Microsoft said.

Microsoft tested its prototypes on 14 people, which isn't a large sample size, but 11 of them noted less nausea than when not using the prototype solutions.