With the VR headset revolution kicking off, we’ve seen an uptick in ethical concerns about virtual reality’s effects on users.
VR headsets are currently being used for a variety of purposes, and some of these are already controversial, like using them to spy on people or to track movements.
We spoke to three VR experts to find out what’s on your mind when you’re in VR.
First, what is VR?
We asked the experts for their opinions on the technology’s current state and future, and they said it’s hard to say.
“There are many things that we are still trying to determine about VR, and that includes the effects of its use on human subjects,” said Jason Pargament, a professor of communication at New York University.
“VR is not yet fully understood and its impact on humans and the environment is not well understood.”
The first step to determining the potential effects of VR on users is to use an app like Metaio or VR Labs’ Oculus Touch to measure the effect of motion on your eyes.
“In this way, you can measure the degree to which you’re actually looking at a virtual object, which can be crucial for the design of virtual environments,” said Pargaments co-founder Alex Ostrovsky.
“This is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to understand VR, but it is not an accurate measure of the potential for the technology.”
The most recent VR headset to be tested in the lab is the HTC Vive, which Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has said will be the first to be available for purchase within the next two years.
It’s been designed specifically for use in VR, though, so its creators have used a variety, and at times, non-standard, applications to measure motion.
For example, researchers in the United Kingdom have tested how VR affects a person’s heart rate during physical activity, which is an area that’s typically not included in research.
“It’s a very basic question, but there’s a lot more work to be done in terms of measuring this data, and so it’s not something we’re particularly excited about yet,” said David Rousset, a neuroscientist at the University of Surrey.
“We don’t have a lot that we can say right now about VR’s impact on brain function, but we’re going to see more and more VR headsets come out, and this is one area that could potentially benefit from the kind of research we’re doing.”
Pargments own company Metaio is also working on VR-related research, and has built a headset that can measure eye movement in virtual reality.
This device uses a pair of cameras and a projector to track the position of an object in VR in order to provide a more accurate estimate of the distance from which it’s being viewed.
“I would say that our results with the VR-Orientation Sensor are pretty similar to what you would see from a regular eye tracker, but with the ability to see where you’re looking,” said Metaio CEO Simon Lee.
“So if you’re using a VR headset and you look around a virtual scene, you might not notice the tracking devices at all.
The tracking technology will pick up where you were looking and it will be able to give you a very accurate estimate, which will be useful for many of the other things we are interested in doing.”
A more recent prototype of the Metaio device has been tested in real-world conditions and found to be fairly accurate.
However, the device has a limited number of settings, and only supports a single eye tracker.
This limitation means that researchers will need to be careful when testing the MetaIO in real space, and will have to use the device with a partner to get the most accurate measurements.
“The Metaio requires a partner with a real camera and a real eye tracker to work in order for us to measure with the right accuracy,” Lee said.
“If you’re a realist and you want to use a real sensor in a real environment, that would be great, but for now, it will have a limited range of settings.”
The Metaio also requires a VR-compatible headset that is compatible with the Oculus Touch controllers, but Parguments team is working on a headset with an optical tracking system that will be compatible with any headset.
The team has also developed a VR app called Vrideo, which allows users to set up a virtual room with a camera and the ability for the headset to track their eye movements.
Pargements team is hoping to launch a VR VR headset that will offer users the same tracking capability as the Oculus Rift.
“Right now we’re testing it with the Rift, which we think will be great for people who want to get into VR but want to have a good experience,” said Lee.
But he warned that while the Metaium headset will be available within the first few months of the Oculus’ launch, there will be “very limited availability” for the