VR is revolutionising the way we work. Jobs for the Future Labs (JFF) recently published its ‘2020 Immersive Technology Learning Report’ that highlighted that immersive technologies are becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the $200bn+ corporate training industry. VR specifically is getting a lot of usage in this field. For example, Walmart has deployed the technology for skills bays assessments, meanwhile, the pharmaceutical giant Thermo Fisher has installed a training centre equipped with virtual reality capabilities to help advance the onboarding and training production line personnel with the aim to reduce training time by 50%. However, the potential of VR for enterprises could be greater still.
Currently, VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) cannot deliver fully immersive experiences because they don’t engage our full visual system. The impact on the uses is profound:
Eye strain and nausea that typically restricts usage to 20 minutes.
Reduced believability and immersiveness because we are not engaging all the brain’s natural 3D spatial cues.
A one-metre exclusion zone for virtual content that limits engagement and restricts potential commercial uses.
When combined, these issues cause discomfort that prevents us from creating an all-day wearable device and leads to a defining limitation of VR application development known as the ‘one-metre barrier’.
The second area of real opportunity is in personalised prescriptions, VR HMDs are still being designed for a 20-year-old with perfect vision with little thought given to glasses wearers. This can make it an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience for those without perfect vision. Thankfully, VR headset manufacturers are starting to better understand this issue and work with companies to improve the experience for glasses wearers. At an enterprise level, this will lead to better adoption and shareability as two-thirds of the world’s population requires some form of corrective eyewear to see clearly.
For both these areas, the development of the optical interface holds the key to unlocking VR for enterprise and indeed consumers markets too.
Fully engaging our natural visual system to deliver truly immersive VR experiences
The fixed optics in most of today’s headsets make everything appear in focus at the same distance, which is unnatural because in the real world we change focus all the time. There are 23 visual cues that make up our perception of 3D space in the real world - without accommodation, we lose five of these. One of the main issues this causes is known as the vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC).
VAC can make it uncomfortable to view content in close proximity or when switching distances between far and near because of the decoupling of the natural vergence and accommodation responses in eyes. As objects get closer, our eyes naturally turn inwards (converge) to triangulate with the object they are looking at. The natural response to this convergence is to stimulate the lenses in our eyes to change focus, but this does not happen in headsets, meaning that VR ends up feeling like a very unnatural experience.
Right now, the leading VR HMD makers recommend taking a 10-15 minute break every 30 minutes, even if users don’t think they need it. If users can't spend a significant amount of time in VR, these technologies will be limited in their enterprise applications. If we can solve this issue, it will enable us to create a device that is more comfortable, feels more natural - so could be used for longer periods.
VAC is also responsible for one of the defining limitations of VR content today, the ‘one-metre barrier’. Developers know that it is uncomfortable to view content within arm’s reach and so they avoid placing it there – which limits the potential of VR applications.
Grand View Research has projected that the global AR/VR healthcare market will reach $5.1bn by 2025, but if we don’t break the ‘one-metre barrier’, software developers will continue to experience limitations in the applications that they can build. They could not, for example, create a VR training application that would allow doctors to comfortably get up close to and inspect virtual patients. Solving the ‘one-metre barrier’ for enterprise use would not just help build the VR ecosystems, but may also advance crucial sectors like healthcare.
Improving the user experience for glasses wearers
If you wear glasses, you know first hand – if you’ve used VR that is – that they don’t work well with VR headsets for several reasons. Some headsets push glasses frames into the nose and face, which is uncomfortable. Larger frames may not fit into headsets at all, and additional space must be left for glasses to prevent lens scratching, which makes the headset bulkier for everyone. For some users, the increased distance between the eye and the lens in the headset also results in a reduced field of view.
The issue becomes much more visceral when we take into account individual prescriptions. VR headset comparison site VR Bound published a guide that details how specific prescriptions can impact the immersiveness and experience of VR headsets. The guide explains how – depending on various prescription needs – users can experience anything from minor detail omission to full-blown eye strain and nausea.
Several leading HMDs have attempted to improve accessibility through various solutions. For example, HTC Vive has designed a headset with modifiable interpupillary distance, while Playstation VR is built with an adjustable interior depth to accommodate thicker glasses. Meanwhile, Oculus has deployed more extensive accessibility solutions through a range of add-ons to its headsets. These range from glasses spacers that add extra depth, to customisable prescription lens inserts.
At Adlens, we are working on better solutions to improve the optical clarity for individuals with prescriptions and easy shareability for enterprise systems.
The solution in sight
In a race to push software and computer hardware to its limits, OEMs have left the optical interface a largely underrepresented area of innovation. Digital advances and better hardware such as more pixels and processing power will be a part of the solution, but in reality, they’ll only engage 18 of the 23 visual cues that shape our perception in the real world.
The optical interface - the space between the eyes and the screen - is where these outstanding five visual cues can be addressed. A dynamic optical interface will help to stimulate the natural accommodative responses in our eyes and engage our full visual system.
Integrating a dynamic optical interface will help to engage the full visual system and bring content comfortably and accurately into arms reach. By drastically improving the VR user experience we would unleash its true potential and transform the way we live and work.
By John Kennedy, CEO, Adlens