Shown as part of the Emerging Technologies installations at SIGGRAPH 2017 this week, the GVS RIDE experience demonstrates the effects of four-pole galvanic vestibular stimulation combined with a VR headset. The technology is pitched as a potential alternative to a motion platform, with its ability to “induce tri-directional acceleration” and “enhance virtual acceleration”.

GVS RIDE is the result of years of studies into galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) from researchers at Osaka University in Japan. The demonstration, as described on the Emerging Technologies page of the SIGGRAPH 2017 website, is presented in two parts: firstly, the user has a typical VR experience by watching a conventional VR video without GVS, followed by watching it again with the GVS circuit enabled, which is said to induce a “higher sensation of presence”.

GVS technology has cropped up regularly in VR discussions over the years, and is generally approached with a healthy dose of trepidation and skepticism. Passing electric current through the head is, in itself, a rather alarming concept, which is then compounded by its ability to manipulate our precious bodily sensors. When controlled precisely however, it has the potential to enhance motion sensations, and assist in resolving certain nausea-inducing VR effects. The basic concept is surprisingly simple – electrodes placed behind the ear (on the ‘mastoids’) pass current through the vestibular system (parts of the inner ear), affecting balance. By controlling the current paths, it is possible to induce different balance and acceleration sensations.

Image courtesy Dr. Aoyama et al, Nature

A two-pole GVS setup, with an electrode behind each ear, is able to induce lateral movement or ‘roll’, and a three-pole GVS, which fits an additional electrode to the forehead, can induce anteroposterior movement or ‘pitch’. The four-pole GVS system developed by the Osaka University team lead by Dr. Kazuma Aoyama, places two electrodes on the mastoids, and another two on the temples. This is able to induce directional virtual head motion around three perpendicular axes. In other words, they’ve managed to evoke roll, pitch, and yaw sensations.

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Dr. Aoyama’s work detailing four-pole GVS was detailed in a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature in 2014. I asked him what had changed since that initial publication, and he explained that they now have six-pole GVS, which can induce four directions: “lateral, front-back, yaw-rotation, and up-down”. This advanced system uses six electrodes (two extra on the neck, “5 or 6cm below the mastoids”), used to enhance the vertical acceleration sensation, but for GVS RIDE as shown at SIGGRAPH 2017 they are just using the four-pole system to manipulate three directions.

Dr. Aoyama avoids describing the ‘lateral’ and ‘front-back’ directions as ‘roll’ and ‘pitch’, as it is difficult for a human to differentiate between an actual roll rotational head motion and a linear lateral movement through vestibular stimulation alone. However, this is apparently advantageous, as the interpretation of both movements can be “easily controlled by visual flow”. As such, Dr. Aoyama believes that GVS can suitably align with both rotational and positional tracking in VR.

It’s unclear when or how GVS might be incorporated into a consumer device (although there have been promising GVS experiments with headphones), but the Osaka team believes their lightweight solution can be “easily adapted to conventional VR systems.” The biggest concern is surely the consumer acceptance of such ‘intrusive’ technology and the variability in its effectiveness across a wide range of people. (For example, there are many reports of GVS tests causing discomfort as a result of variable skin sensitivity.)

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.

    Not sure how safe this would be for long, regular, extended use.

  • Fluke

    My parents always said gaming would fry my brain..

  • OhYeah!

    Bring it on!

  • Shawn

    Couldn’t this tech be coupled with a gyroscope in a helmet to teach me how to maintain balance on a skateboard via bio-feedback? Hmmm… where is my early funding?

    • Mei Ling

      Shawn, you’re hired!

    • I seen that already. The contraption failed. Something to do with the mechanics of the “gyroscope” and feedback out of sync. Lag time. Our nervous system senses balance faster than current bio-feedback devices so the lag time induces a feeling of motion-sickness.

  • I tried this at SIGGRAPH 2017. It was excruciating, like having needles driven into my temples and behind my ears. I didn’t get any particular sense of motion either. I was really hyped up about the possibilities of vestibular stimulation and really disappointed by the reality. I also got a smidge of tinnitus (possibly unrelated or psychosomatic) later that day. So, it’ll be a while before I’m eager to put electrodes so close to my brain again.

    Your mileage may vary, and it could be something specific to my anatomy, but please use caution especially if you’re sensitive to these sorts of things.

    • silvaring

      Did you try this exact one of was it from another organization?

      • I believe it was the same one. It was a roller coaster ride in the emerging tech section.

  • VR Geek

    What happened to the Samsung’s Headphones with similar tech?

  • Zac Menteer

    One step closer to neurohelmets

  • lnpilot

    You can mess with your vestibular system, they said.
    Nothing will go wrong, they said.

    • RFC_VR

      Anyone who’s had a bad VR experience (I can think of a couple of Vive applications with horrible translational smear) can confirm the effects on the vestibular system can be felt for hours afterwards.

      Electrodes? No thanks…

    • Yeah, of course, right ! LMAO, without extensive long-term testing they don’t know. People will to anything to rig up contraptions for money and call it safe technology.

    • Yeah, of course, right ! LMAO, without extensive long-term testing they don’t know. People will to anything to rig up contraptions for money and call it safe technology.

  • 0x

    It’s an interesting area of research for sure… Even if perfectly executed and absolutely flawless at inducing motion sensations, though… I feel like a system malfunction or power surge or something could potentially seriously mess you up. Still interested to see where they can go with this and how able it is to be universalized. What I mean by that is… well, take HRTF binaural audio processing, for instance.. because of the unique shape of peoples’ ears, generalized HRTF models sometimes work better or worse for different people at giving the impression of the height or depth of a sound source. So maybe as dskeith suggested this could be like that in that varying physiology can have an effect on whether or not it works for you.

  • Eric Lotze

    The problem is how much this is individual, it isn’t a one size fits all type thing. Some people will need more/less current from what I have heard. Possibly this needs calibration of some sort?

    Did they do anything like that at the booth?

  • Jack H

    Is there a link for the latest paper on the 6 pole GVS? I have never seen anything in the literature to suggest a dominant linear acceleration sensation induced instead of mostly rotation due to currents cancelling eachother out.

  • BRAIN CANCER !!!! Seriously, with all that electrical current and EMR around your head, without extensive testing ?! Do you really think this is safe in the long-term ?

  • BRAIN CANCER !!!! Seriously, with all that electrical current and EMR around your head, without extensive testing ?! Do you really think this is safe in the long-term ?

  • Emkay

    one step closer to SAO at a time