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New Study by OSU Shows How To Combat Physical Dangers of VR

Technology has brought forth many revolutions over the years but has also resulted in people developing unwanted symptoms from its overuse. Computer-use hazards like headaches and carpal tunnel are well known. But recent findings have concluded that virtual reality (VR) also has detrimental effects on the physical health of users.

A study conducted at Oregon State University (OSU) explored the notion of some common VR movement patterns causing discomfort and muscle strains. The institution is making an effort to raise safety standards for VR users, as the technology form is vital for training and education.

Jay Kim, a researcher at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, OSU, remarked that any standards or regulations for AR and VR interactions were non-existent. He remarked that the researchers put in efforts to gauge target locations, sizes, and distances to gain a better understanding of interfaces, with the aim of reducing musculoskeletal injury risks. VR users are generally required to wear a headset to perform three-dimensional, full-body movements, quite different from regular computer users who are supported by their chairs and desks to some extent.

The researchers placed motion capture sensors on the muscles and joints of the participants, to track movements, in addition to electromyography for measuring muscle electrical activity whilst performing VR movements. The participants put on the Oculus Rift VR headset to complete tasks assigned to them, such as pinpointing dots surrounding a circle or using their fingers to colour specific areas. The tests were repeated in different settings, with visuals placed at eye level, 15 degrees higher than eye level, and 30 degrees below eye level.

The experiment found that reaching out one’s arm caused shoulder discomfort amongst participants in a matter of minutes, according to Kim. Factoring in the long usage periods of VR, the research suggested that users could suffer rotator cuff injuries and gorilla arm syndrome. The findings also concluded that the heavy weight of the VR headset may raise the stress on one’s cervical spine, causing even more neck strain.

Kim stressed that the impact of repeated movements and awkward postures were evident amongst computer users, who are often affected by musculoskeletal disorders. He explained that the motive behind the experiments was to compare the impact of VR to computer and human interactions. The study aimed to set a standard for optimal placement and angles, to let VR developers create future projects to reduce the discomfort of users.

Researchers considered the shoulder and neck movements of users during the experiment sessions. The findings of the colouring task deteriorated when the users had to move down their heads 15 degrees and 30 degrees. They found the highest level of activity and most radical postures when the subjects were focusing on targets placed 15 degrees above their eye level. At this stage, the participants had to hold their raised arm and extended neck positions. It was also the part of the experiment that showed the highest degree of discomfort. Kim said that the findings made it clear how objects users interact with should stay nearer to their bodies. The way of reducing discomfort when it comes to VR might be placing objects at the eye level.

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