The Oculus Rift was first announced in 2012. Backed by a Kickstarter campaign, it also kickstarted a surge of excitement for a new wave of virtual reality devices. Now three years later, and although excitement is still high, progress has been slow. Developers have the tech, but have blamed our own frail physiology for delays — eye strain and motion sickness caused by devices such as the Oculus Rift have stymied progress. But Valve, who this week unveiled its own Vive headset, developed in partnership with HTC, says it's finally cracked the problem of VR nausea.
Speaking in an interview at GDC, Valve boss Gabe Newell said that until now VR headsets have been the "world's best motion sickness inducers," but that "zero percent of people get motion sick" when using his company's headset. That's partly thanks to its Lighthouse motion-tracking system, which is capable of tracking users accurately as they move around a space. In The Verge's hands-on experience with the Vive at GDC, Lighthouse was able to give a highly precise picture of what the wearer was doing in a 3D space, a feature that helps our brains cope with the disconnect between actual physical motion and the virtual world our eyes see.
Newell said that VR headsets so far are "the world's best motion sickness inducers"
Other companies developing VR headsets have come up with their own solutions for motion tracking — Sony's Project Morpheus prototypes offer a similar, less precise function — but may soon incorporate Valve's Lighthouse technology to cut down further on VR sickness. The company announced earlier this week that it was giving the technology away for free to interested hardware manufacturers, a move that may speed the release of commercial versions of VR headsets.
Super-programmer John Carmack, who helped code Doom and a host of games before joining Oculus full-time last year, described a "nightmare scenario" at GDC this week in which people "like the [VR] demo, they take it home, and they start throwing up." The first headset to see commercial release has to solve the problem, he said, or the whole concept could be sunk. "The fear is if a really bad VR product comes out," he said, "it could send the industry back to the '90s."