“Virtual reality and video game headsets”: a poorly evaluated technology

by bold-lichterman

Frenchweb publishes the good sheets of Philippe Fuchs’ new book (“Virtual reality and video game helmets”, Presses des Mines, 2016). This book is intended for all those who are interested in the operation of headsets, from its risks to its opportunities.

Since the beginning of 2014, a large number of press releases have been issued from computer equipment manufacturers announcing new products in the field of virtual reality. Oculus Rift, Hololens, Kinect, Leap Motion, Magic Leap… So many new names that offer new opportunities.

Whatever their nature (helmets, sensors, glasses, etc.), these new materials have a common denominator: their cost much lower than the equipment used until then, making it possible to consider applications intended for the general public.

These announcements were relayed by a large number of articles in the media but, unfortunately, beyond the announcement effects, most of them offer incomplete or even false analyzes due to a lack of knowledge of the “virtual reality”. Particularly because many of these columnists are discovering a field that is far from emerging, which has existed for more than a quarter of a century with its uses, its companies and its research laboratories.

In a non-exhaustive way, let us quote the applications used for a long time in the sectors of the automobile construction, the fitting out of buildings, the design and the training of surgical procedures, archaeological reconstructions, training, etc.

While immersion is necessary for virtual reality, it is not sufficient. The second essential pillar to be able to talk about virtual reality is the interaction of the user so that he can perform a task in a virtual environment. Thus, we cannot speak of virtual reality for an exploration of a site via a 360-degree visualization using a head-mounted display or for a cinema session, even if the image is projected in relief on a very large screen, accompanied by spatialized sound, because the viewer is only passive.

Much more serious than this terminological confusion, professionals, both in the business world and in that of research, have known for many years that immersion in virtual reality poses problems that should not be overlooked. Ranging from a feeling of discomfort to discomfort, the most famous manifestation has been dubbed “virtual space sickness” (cybersickness for English speakers). It has been studied for a long time to try to understand the causes and mitigate the effects. However, curiously, no trace on this question in these articles and even less studies proposed by the manufacturers of video headsets which limit themselves to accepting a license excluding them from any liability in the event of a problem.

Illustration: In the instructions supplied with a now famous head-mounted display, the manufacturer advises against getting behind the wheel of a vehicle just after using a head-mounted display for the reasons mentioned above.

What will happen if our children play for several hours a day to progress in an immersive game? At an age when their visual system is still developing, what consequences are to be feared? It is really very surprising that at a time when the precautionary principle is essential in many areas, this question does not raise more interest, nor, to our knowledge, long-term studies involving experts from different specialties.

It is therefore essential to demonstrate pedagogy to present virtual reality to as many people as possible, explain the operating principles of these new headsets and study their uses to understand both the opportunities and the risks.

Virtual reality and video game headsets
Philippe Fuchs
Presses des Mines, 2016
Coll. “Mathematics and computer science”
244 pages

Philippe Fuchs is the head of the Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality (VR&RA) research team at the Robotics Center of the Ecole des Mines ParisTech. It is a major player in the field of virtual reality and augmented reality in France.

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