Virtual Nose Could Help Battle VR Sickness

Nothing even remotely approaching what this would look like

Virtual noses. That’s what researchers at Purdue University are proposing as a potential solution to that sickness you might experience when playing games on Oculus Rift or similar virtual reality headsets.

Simulator sickness is a form of motion sickness. The version I’ve experienced with VR involved sweating, nausea, eyestrain and headaches. I wasn’t actually sick but it was incredibly unpleasant and has made me wary of VR headsets ever since.

There are a number of theories as the exactly why this occurs with virtual reality environments but David Whittinghill – an assistant professor at the university’s Department of Computer Graphics Technology – mentions the one I’ve heard put forward most often: cue conflict.

“The problem is your perceptual system does not like it when the motion of your body and your visual system are out of synch,” says Whittinghill. “So if you see motion in your field of view you expect to be moving, and if you have motion in your eyes without motion in your vestibular system you get sick.”

Cockpits and dashboards have been used as a kind of workaround as they offer players fixed visual reference points which – anecdotally, at least – appear to help. But that’s only useful when the conceit of the game allows for said cockpit or dashboard.

Step forward the virtual nose.

It's whisper quiet
Image: David Whittinghill/Purdue University

“It was a stroke of genius,” said Whittinghill. “You are constantly seeing your own nose. You tune it out, but it’s still there, perhaps giving you a frame of reference to help ground you.”

Are you currently going cross-eyed trying to look at your own nose? I definitely didn’t do that.

Anyway, apparently the researchers then put 41 players in two VR applications – one was that Tuscany villa, the other was a rollercoaster – some with virtual noses inserted onscreen and some without.

Apparently, taking the virtual nose to Tuscany let players stay an average of 94.2 seconds longer in the application without feeling sick than the no-nose group managed while the rollercoaster noses added 2.2 seconds of non-sickness to the experience.

“Surprisingly, subjects did not notice the nasum virtualis while they were playing the games, and they were incredulous when its presence was revealed to them later in debriefings,” Whittinghill said.

I really get the feeling these quotes and press release were not written with an entirely straight face, don’t you?

Something I’m wondering is about whether adding a nose would affect immersion even though some people don’t apparently consciously perceive it. Looking at the image the researchers posted, the nose is pale beige. I’m assuming it’s just a placeholder to test a concept but it made me think of an ongoing issue in fashion where the colour often referred to as “nude” isn’t actually applicable to a huge range of people’s skin tone. If the concept gets widely adopted you’d need to let people – for want of a better phrase – pick their own nose.

The research is ongoing and the overall goal of Whittinghill and his colleagues’ work is to come up with a fully predictive model so you can work out what level of simulator sickness someone can expect from a given experience. But according to their research abstract, “These findings reveal a practical, inexpensive means of reducing simulator sickness in virtual reality applications.”


  1. RaveTurned says:

    Will this innovation prevent simulator sickness once and for all?

    Who nose.

    • Boothie says:

      that pun was a bit… on the nose

      • Lachlan1 says:

        He should sniff around for a better one, until then build a….bridge

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      I’m off to try the alien isolation dlc in vr again. Walking round “The Nostrilomo” should be a much less nauseating experience.

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      Earl-Grey says:

      I guess it is a sinus the maturation of VR-tech that such research is bearing fruit.
      But adenoid, surely some people get sick whif or whifout the nose?
      -I’m proboscis just being overly skeptical.

      • skittles says:

        Reread the article. Yes, people were getting sick with or without the nose. The entire thing was designed to make people sick, it was a virtual rollercoaster. The findings were though that having a virtual nostril delayed the sickness by a couple of seconds. Not by much granted, but a significant time. And as said the thing was designed to make everyone sick anyway so a few seconds becomes more important.

    • paranoydandroyd says:

      I’m glad they’re finding a solution to schnauzea.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      They will need to produce them in an olfactory to achieve that. …………..

  2. rustybroomhandle says:

    Truly a first step for humankind. For never before has the phrase “rollercoaster noses” been used, surely.

  3. Porkolt says:

    Wow 94.2 seconds.

    That’ll at least give me the opportunity to save my game before I feel the need to hurl!

    • Porkolt says:

      On a slightly more serious note. I work in shipping and have been prone to seasickness from time to time. If the experience has taught me anything is that you endure it better over time. It might not ever go away completely, but you’ll get used to it.

      I’d advise against hosting a VR party, however. Nothing is quite as stressful as working on a ship rolling through eight meter swells, tipping out of your bed at night, and having to deal with an entire crew feeling bad and being grumpy. I couldn’t fathom how bad it would be having to deal with a bunch of chagrined nerds.

    • Geebs says:

      I know that was a joke, but I congratulate you on having a far better grasp of the difference between effect size and statistical significance than anybody at Purdue University’s department of Computer Graphics and Technology.

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        particlese says:

        Yeah, glad someone pointed this out — the claim itself made me a bit nauseous, and I hope it’s just a University PR thing or a light-hearted publication intended for the start of next month. Granted, I haven’t read the paper, but really? 41 people? Is that ever honestly considered statistically significant for anything involving people listening to their instincts or subjectively judging themselves?

        Aaanyway, glad to see someone came up with a schnoz simulator. The thought, plus glasses, occurred to me a while ago since I notice my real one fairly often, but I’ve been way too distracted/lazy to implement it myself.

        Fun fact: Since your eyeballs pivot somewhere inside themselves rather than at their apertures, you can see further around your nose if you look straight forward rather than at your nose. Sure, you can often use both eyes or even turn your head, but that’s cheating.

  4. Da5e says:

    Does ‘nasum’ just mean nose, then? So all this time, I’ve had a selection of shirts by a grindcore band called ‘Nose’?

  5. Wulfram says:

    It’d be interesting to see if the colour of the virtual nose actually did change it’s effectiveness

  6. jezcentral says:

    The lighting on it would have to updated throughout, too. I can’t see any video footage of the test, so I don’t know it they do this. (Perhaps figuring that if we tune it out, it doesn’t matter, kind of like the colour issue.)

    • Robert The Rebuilder says:

      If they do add lighting effects to the VR noses, they’ll need to allow the players to excuse themselves to go powder them. :)

  7. frymaster says:

    Nominating “pick their own nose” for sentence of the month.

    • Ieolus says:

      You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.

      • Scandalon says:

        You can pick your friends, and you can pick your friends’ noses, but you can’t wipe your friends on the back of the couch.

    • Harlander says:

      Pick your own nose! Nasum virtualis! Going cross-eyed to look at your own nose! And a grindcore band called “Nose”!

      This post and the comments are a fractal of delight. Every time I look I find something else to make me smile.

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      particlese says:

      I second this motion!

  8. DrMcCoy says:

    But people get motion-sick in cars, on planes, on ships, where they usually already have a nose…

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      They’re usually fine on planes and trains.
      Their wheels have bogies

    • Nevard says:

      It’s not that “noses prevent motion sickness” but “the absence of a nose where on is usual can leave to focusing problems, and thus motion sickness”

      • DrMcCoy says:

        So you’re saying there’s still no magical cure for me getting sick during car rides (*)? :(

        (*) It’s happens less frequently than when I was a child. But still happens, especially when the roads are bad.

        • Koozer says:

          Maybe you should try more noses?

          • hotmaildidntwork says:

            This is brilliant! Now that they’ve determined a significant effect to exist they should base the next experiment around the number of noses that need to be added to stave off motion sickness indefinitely.

          • Shadowcat says:

            Subjects were incredulous when it was revealed to them later in debriefings that all images consisted entirely of noses.

    • Cinek says:

      Their nose is too small. Grow a bigger one, cure the motion sickness.

    • Horg says:

      That would be the classic motion sickness problem; seeing movement while remaining stationary. Adults who suffer from this will typically be the ones who get motion sick from low FoV settings. The VR goggles problem is different; creating an image that is out of sync with what your brain is used to processing, one example being due to lack of nose.

  9. Ieolus says:

    Do people without noses experience more motion sickness?

    • DestructibleEnvironments says:

      You just made me laugh at a terrible joke. Thanks! :+)

      • Ieolus says:

        Quite welcome.

        Now can someone answer my question please? If you don’t have a nose, let us know if you experience motion sickness.


  10. picatju says:

    No Lord Voldemort puns?

    • Cinek says:

      Nope. He is vomiting right now and everyone feel sorry for the guy.

  11. Lachlan1 says:

    I want a game where you can pick your nose in real life and in VR you pull out all kinds of crazy shit.

  12. AlwaysRight says:

    Everyone can see their nose? That’s amazing. I thought it was just me because my nose is so big.

    It’s still sexy though.

  13. Lachlan1 says:

    So team fortress 3 will have a nose economy

  14. thedosbox says:

    When Mirror’s Edge came out, there was some talk that adding a small reticule helped with motion sickness in that game. Makes me wonder if doing that would be sufficient for VR, and would be easier than picking a fake nose.

  15. souroldlemon says:

    Cue conflict definitely exists, but your mind gets used to it after a while. People can experience something similar just by spending a few minutes wearing glasses for short-sighted people: if you have normal sight then you can see clearly through them, but things are distorted and they make you feel weird.
    The cue conflict is that our brain senses the focusing of the eyes, although this is not the main component of 3d vision, parallax is. So: if we are focusing our eyes at infinity (with goggles) or a few feet away (with a monitor) but simultaneously using the different images presented to each eye to deduce that we’re looking at objects at totally different distances from the distance of the display, it creates a paradox for our brain. Neurons that have been trained to deal with certain combinations of signals are coping with conflicting information and we feel strange while they are being retrained.
    One solution is to have a very mild 3d effect (the images presented to each eye are similar, for example because they’re distant.) This is usually done in cinemas, but you lose some of the immersion of the full effect.

  16. Shadowcat says:

    My virtual dog has no nose.

  17. CramBlamkin says:

    This might sound a bit silly at first, but seriously:

    Please include at least a basic size adjustor. I have a fairly large nose and I can see it out of the corner of my eyes most of the time. I imagine it’d be stranger for me to have a tiny nose than it would be to not have one at all. It can’t be much work to have skin tones and at least a basic size slider.

    If any devs are reading this, please keep this in mind.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      You’re the second person I’ve explained this to this week: everyone (or at least almost everyone) can see their nose out of the corner of their eye, not just people with “big” noses. I only bring this up because the other person felt that being able to see her nose meant that it was enormous.

      Good point though.