Vection: Using virtual reality to test astronauts' perception
Vection is a Canadian science experiment that used a virtual reality system to examine how microgravity affects astronauts' perception of their motion.
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 assessed how crewmembers judged distances and processed their own movement while they were 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 aimed to:
- learn more about how visual information creates the impression of self-motion in weightlessness
- explore whether astronauts' perception of their surroundings is affected by weightlessness
- create a model of how the space environment influences the way we process visual information
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 worked
Vection's 12 participants used virtual reality headsets to experience 3D simulations. Throughout the tests, astronauts were immobilized in a head and neck brace.
- In one simulation, astronauts estimated the size of an object. Mistakes in estimation revealed errors in perceived distance from the objects.
- A second test simulated motion down a corridor. Astronauts indicated when they arrived at the position of a previously viewed target. Over- or under-estimates indicated the strength of their sense of vection.
- In the third test, simulated visual motion was used to determine if the astronauts were confusing tilt and visual acceleration in weightlessness.
Astronauts were tested before, during, and after their missions. Vection's scientists are analyzing the results to isolate the effects of weightlessness on their performance. In spring , the research team will go to the Canadian Space Agency to present the final report and discuss the recommendations.
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.
- Vection conducted its testing between and .
- In spring , the research team will present its results at the Canadian Space Agency.
- Dr. Laurence Harris, York University
- Dr. Michael Jenkin, York University
- Dr. Robert Allison, York University
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