Vection: Using virtual reality to test astronauts' perception

Health Science

Vection is a new Canadian science experiment that will use a virtual reality system to examine how microgravity affects astronauts' perception of their motion.

Background

The word "vection" is defined as a feeling that you are moving even though you are immobile, brought on by seeing something else moving. It can be dangerous if it leads astronauts to misinterpret the direction and speed of other objects. For instance, the effect could complicate tasks involving robotics such as captures of unpiloted spacecraft using Canadarm2.

The Vection experiment will assess how crewmembers judge distances and process their own movement while they are immersed in a virtual reality environment. The knowledge gained through this study will help design safer methods of moving around the International Space Station. It could also help future astronauts land small spaceships on lunar or planetary surfaces.

Vection study's Edgeless Graphics Geometry (EGG) large-field display

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)

Objectives

Vection aims to:

 Impacts on Earth

Through Vection, researchers will learn more about how visual signals affect our perception when we are in motion. The study's findings may also enrich research in many areas, including:

  • understanding disorders affecting movement and posture, like Parkinson's disease
  • using virtual reality to assist people recovering from a stroke or damage to their balance organs
  • understanding the effects of aging on perception
  • improving the use of technologies like remotely operated robots used in surgery

How it works

Vection's seven participants will use virtual reality headsets to experience 3D simulations. Throughout the tests, astronauts will be immobilized in a head and neck brace.

  1. In one simulation, astronauts will estimate the size of an object. Mistakes in estimation will reveal errors in perceived distance from the objects.
  2. A second test will simulate motion down a corridor. Astronauts will indicate when they arrive at the position of a previously viewed target. Over- or under-estimates will indicate the strength of their sense of vection.
  3. In the third test, simulated visual motion will be used to determine if the astronauts are confusing tilt and visual acceleration in weightlessness.

Astronauts will be tested before, during, and after their missions. Vection's scientists will compare the results to isolate the effects of weightlessness on their performance.

You may have experienced vection in the subway while observing a nearby train arrive or leave. Despite actually remaining immobile, you may have felt a convincing sensation that your train moved in the opposite direction. That illusory self-motion is known as vection.

Timeline

Vection is scheduled to conduct its testing between and .

A head-spinning photo from the Vection study's Tumbling Room

In this image, Vection's Principal Investigator, Dr. Laurence Harris, is taking a spin in the new Tumbling Room Facility (made possible by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, CFI, and built by Dymech Engineering Inc.) The equipment will help the research team examine the role of gravity and motion in perception. (Credit: York University)

Research team

Principal investigator

Co-investigators

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