Vection: Using virtual reality to test why some astronauts feel disoriented in space
Many of us dream of experiencing the sensation of floating in space, or flying through the International Space Station (ISS). There is a downside, though, since some astronauts actually feel sick or disoriented in space. This may lead them to misinterpret the direction and speed of their movement, which could be dangerous if it interferes with tasks involving robotics, for instance, when the crew captures unpiloted spacecraft using Canadarm2.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is funding a new Canadian study called Vection to gain a better understanding of the effects of reduced gravity on astronauts' perception of self-motion, particularly how the brain interprets visual signals and how a moving astronaut may misinterpret acceleration as tilting. Led by Dr. Laurence Harris from York University and his team of researchers, Vection will study how visual cues affect the impression of motion in weightlessness, examine whether those cues could be confusing, and create a model of how reduced gravity influences how we process visual information.
York University aims to recruit at least six astronauts for its study. Data will be collected before, during and after their space missions through visual simulations using a virtual reality system. The astronauts will be tested to measure how they perceive motion and judge distances as they are immobile and immersed in a 3D environment on Earth and in space.
This image features the edgeless graphics Geometry (EGG) large-field display (made possible by funding from the CFI and developed by Christie®). The Vection research team will use it to assess the role the whole visual field plays in the perception of motion and orientation, using high-resolution stereo graphics. (Credit: York University)
Applications on Earth
On Earth, motion perception is critical for tasks like walking or driving a car. The findings from Vection will help explain how visual signals affect our perception when we are in motion. The study's findings may advance research in a number of areas, including:
- technologies on Earth that simulate motion, such as robotics or remote operations using robotic-assisted surgery.
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