In an exclusive interview with Mechatech Ltd, the creators of Agile VR, we talk about how Agile VR helps motion sickness and how this effects the future of virtual reality.

The virtual reality community has faced a key problem since the very beginning. This problem has undoubtedly left a range of first time users with bad tastes in their mouths, potentially even resulting in them abandoning VR for good. We are talking about virtual reality’s locomotion problem, although a lot of users refer to it as motion sickness.

There are a few different theories as to why we get motion sickness when we are using VR. The key theory, posed by McCauley and Sharkey (2006) refers to something called sensory conflict. The idea behind sensory conflict is simple enough, there is a mismatch of the inputs going to your brain. What your eyes are seeing doesn’t match up with what you feel, mainly relating to balance and motion. This is why you can recreate motion sickness in VR easily with a simple roller coaster simulation. This is beneficial from an evolutionary viewpoint. If you are hallucinating or feeling very dizzy traditionally, it can mean that you have ingested some kind of toxin. Obviously your body would want to get rid of this toxin, hence why we feel sick. A bit of a bummer when you’re trying to play VR though.

The Solution…s

This problem has been around for a while now. And since then, developers have made it their mission to solve it for the sake of the industry. Motion sickness normally occurs when you are trying to use ‘natural locomotion’ in game, which is just walking around as you would if playing a normal game. This sensation is what translates into motion sickness.

Over the past few years, developers have come up with plenty of new locomotion methods. The first and main method was teleportation or dashing. This is when you take your controller, point it at where you want to go and you will teleport or dash there depending on the game. There are also a range of experimental methods being released all the time to try and solve this problem. These solutions present a pretty clear problem, they have a sever negative effect on your immersion.

Teleportation in virtual reality

What Does Agile VR Do Differently?

Mechatech Ltd have decided to fully embrace natural locomotion and design a product that removes the sensory conflict. Agile VR is a wearable virtual reality accessory compatible with a range of VR games and headsets. It tracks flexion and rotation in your knees using small sensors and then translates this into movement, utilising a basic exoskeleton design fastening above and below the knee to do so.

Agile VR
Agile VR Exoskeleton (Image Credit: Mechatech LTD)

This exoskeleton design is no surprise from a company like Mechatech considering they have spent 7 years in R&D of exoskeleton technology. Jack Murphy, Mechatech’s lead mechanical engineer, aims for their exoskeleton technology to be used in many different industries. Specifically, “Ranging from enhancive exoskeletons for industrial applications, assistive exoskeletons for rehabilitation and sensory exoskeletons for motion capture. We have chosen the VR industry as our first consumer product.”

While Mechatech do have big plans for their exoskeleton technology, they are far from finished with virtual reality. According to Jack, “Agile VR has more than locomotion available, 2020 will bring the SDK for unity and unreal engines for leg visualisations and interactions. Our plan for Agile VR is for full body immersion.” Jack also went on to mention Mechatech’s plans for the inclusion of haptic feedback and motion tracking.

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How Does It Help With Motion Sickness?

Well as we mentioned earlier, the leading theory as to why we get motion sickness from virtual reality is sensory conflict. When your body doesn’t feel what your eyes are seeing, particularly in your inner ear. Agile VR deals with this. To move using Agile VR, you simply need to create a small jogging motion on the spot. The sensors in the exoskeleton will sense this movement and generate forward motion. By doing this very small movement, you create the illusion of walking in your inner ear which has a strong effect in reducing the motion sickness you will experience. Backwards and side motion are very easily generated also with single steps in the direction you need to go, this has the same effect on your body.

This technology comes at a critical time in the VR industry. With games like Boneworks being released that have advanced physics engines, experienced VR users are reporting feelings of motion sickness returning to gameplay. This gives inexperienced users little hope of experiencing these games as they were designed and restricts developers from experimenting heavily with VR physics.

Products like Agile VR give new and experienced players alike a chance at overcoming this motion sickness problem. As for the future of Mechatech in VR, a developer putting a focus on an un-tethered haptic feedback and motion detecting exoskeleton for your legs will provide for an interesting future in virtual reality development and immersion.

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