Second LCD could help with VR’s nausea problem

According to researchers at Stanford University, one of reasons people get motion sickness while wearing virtual reality headsets is that in real life, our eyes get more light bouncing back from near-by objects than from distant ones. In a typical virtual reality headset, however, all the light rays are coming from the same screen, at the same intensity.

As a result, virtual reality views seem flat and fake — and can help contribute to the nausea that some people experience.

According to Stanford professor Gordon Wetzstein, there’s a solution to the problem, and it’s not too complicated. His team at the Stanford Computational Imaging Group has created a headset with a second, transparent, liquid crystal display screen in front of the regular one.

The second screen, in combination with a processing unit, allows for different amount of light to reach the eye, based on the virtual distance of the objects in the scene.

“Our insight is that only two LCD’s are required, thus providing an inexpensive solution,” said Fu-Chung Huang, who is also a visiting scientist collaborating with Wetzstein at Stanford. Huang also works at graphics technology company Nvidia Corp. as a researcher. “We enable the user to really focus in virtual space.”

The extra screen costs about $35, and the driver board another $30, but bulk purchasing — and the continuing fall in the price of all technology — will probably drive the cost down quickly.

The headset was built from scratch, using the Adafruit 3D printable virtual reality headset case, and lenses and LCDs bought on eBay.

(Image courtesy Stanford Computational Imaging Group.)
(Image courtesy Stanford Computational Imaging Group.)

And this “is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Wetzstein told Hypergrid Business.

The team will be presenting their research at the SIGGRAPH 2015 in Los Angeles next month, and the paper is also available online here.

The research is still in its early stages, however. It could take a while for the technology to be commercialized, and higher resolution will entail increased costs, said Huang, and fundamental challenges like diffraction that need to be overcome.

“People will going to explore further along this direction eventually, because really it gives what our eyes expect to see naturally,” he said. “People are going to like it once they experience the technology.”