NSF Spends $195K to Study Cybersickness in Virtual Reality Physical Rehab

May 7, 2014 - 12:44 PM

virtual reality helmet

Virtual reality helmet (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Science Foundation has awarded $195,126 to the University of Texas at San Antonio to study how to reduce cybersickness in virtual reality physical rehabilitation.

“The effects of cybersickness (i.e., motion sickness caused by immersive simulation, such as virtual reality) on healthy users has been one of the fundamental research areas in virtual reality (VR) for many years, but its impact on persons with physical disabilities is still unknown, even though it could have a significant impact on VR-based physical rehabilitation for this population,” the grant award said.

“This project investigates cybersickness for persons with disabilities, specifically for persons with multiple sclerosis with a moderate level of mobility impairment and no cognitive impairment,” it added.

The grant’s objective is to “minimize the negative effects of cybersickness for people with disabilities, and to thereby significantly improve the effectiveness of VR-based physical rehabilitation and the quality of life for people with motor impairments.”

The expected outcome of the project is to “determine the best way to measure cybersickness in people with disabilities,” and then “figure out the main factors that contribute to cybersickness in persons with disabilities, specifically for people with propioceptive and balance deficits (e.g. due to neurological, vestibular, balance issues).”

VR-related cybersickness “will be magnified for persons with disabilities as compared to persons without disabilities because of differences in balance and proprioception abilities,” the grant announcement said.

“To test this hypothesis, the project will (a) determine how disability correlates with VR-induced cybersickness, (b) determine the most effective objective measures of VR-induced cybersickness for people with disabilities, (c) determine the main contributing aspects of VR design that affect cybersickness in people with disabilities and (d) create, disseminate, and maintain an open database of (anonymized) cybersickness data from people with disabilities,” it said.

John Quarles, principal investigator for the grant, said the taxpayer-funded research is important, because it helps to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities by increasing patients’ motivation.

Quarles should know. He has multiple sclerosis. He said his research came from his experience with physical rehab.

“The problem is you rehabilitate and then you have another attack, and then it’s like, all that work you did and have to rehabilitate,” Quarles said.

In virtual reality physical therapy, patients could wear goggles, or even be placed in front of a big screen, Quarles said. In some cases, patients use a fully immersive head-mounted display, which can be problematic, because it can make those with disabilities more susceptible to falls.

“It’s similar to what happens when if you have balance issues and you close your eyes, then there’s a significantly higher chance that you’re just gonna fall over and not necessarily realize that you’re falling over,” he said.

“So one of the things is we have to unblock the periphery or the sides of the head mounted display, which is kind of annoying, because you can’t immerse people as much in the environment then if you don’t have the entire real world blocked out,” Quarles said.

Also, patients can do things safely in virtual reality physical rehab that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do safely in real life, he said.

“You could ultimately say if we make people rehabilitate more effectively, they can get back into the workforce quicker and contribute and just live happier lives in general,” Quarles added.

Funding for the project began on Feb. 15, 2014 and will end Jan. 31, 2019.