The virtual reality industry is about to transition from geek fantasy to commercial reality. It was apparent from the various offerings at SVVRcon that head mounted display developers have been able to address the variety of technical challenges that have long stood in the way of delivering an immersive VR experience. With the focus on the diverse technical challenges of building a viable HMD, human factors(ergonomics and hygiene) remain as a largely unmet need. To address this need, Jema VR is launching About Face VR to provide human facing solutions for increased comfort and cleanliness for the virtual reality community.
HMD manufacturers have thus far devoted the majority of their resources developing the electronics, optics, and software elements necessary to enable virtual reality. I refer to this as the “dry side” of the HMD. In the last two years the dry side of the HMD has come a long way. While high resolution, low latency head tracking and a solid base of content are necessary aspects for building a VR industry, they alone, are not sufficient. To make VR the paradigm shifting technology we are all hoping for, we need to address the aspect of the HMD that directly connects the HMD with the head and face of the user, what I’ve taken to calling the “wet side” of the HMD. The issues with the wet side of the HMD can be broadly divided into three groups 1) hygiene challenges, 2) ergonomics challenges, and 3) user interface opportunities.
Hygiene: As users spend more time in Head Mounted Displays, issues of hygiene at the skin-HMD interface become apparent. The skin of the face produces substantial quantities of oils and sweat and is populated by a variety of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria (“the facial microbiome”). As a result, the portion of the HMD that is in contact with the facial skin of the user, can become soiled. If left in this condition, it may result in an unpleasant user experience. In more extreme cases, it may present health risks to users. To provide the safest and most comfortable experience, users must be provided with options for maintaining a clean interface between their skin and the HMD. Towards this end, Jema VR through the About Face VR project has developed a line of products that provide various solutions for user hygiene in virtual reality.
Ergonomics: As commonly used, ergonomics is the scientific discipline focused on providing comfortable and usable equipment that takes into account various aspects of human anatomy and biomechanics. Head mounted displays present a variety of ergonomic challenges that Jema VR is addressing. By understanding the contours, bone structure and dermatological properties of the human face, we are in the process of developing HMD mounting solutions that will increase user comfort and make VR a more natural, organic, and appealing experience.
User Interface: In addition to the hygienic and ergonomic challenges on the wet side of the HMD, the HMD-Facial interface presents enormous opportunities for enriching user experiences and providing unique control schemes. For example, Jema VR is experimenting with sensors placed along the HMD-Facial interface which can be used to monitor facial muscle movements, EEG signals, galvanic skin response, heart rate and others. These projects are advancing rapidly and we look forward to sharing our progress with the VR community.