A device built around a pair of electronic shutters has been demonstrated to be effective as a prototype of stroboscopic goggles or eyeglasses for preventing or reducing motion sickness. The momentary opening of the shutters helps to suppress a phenomenon that is known in the art as retinal slip and is described more fully below.
While a number of different environmental factors can induce motion sickness, a common factor associated with every known motion environment is sensory confusion or sensory mismatch. Motion sickness is a product of misinformation arriving at a central point in the nervous system from the senses from which one determines one’s spatial orientation. When information from the eyes, ears, joints, and pressure receptors are all in agreement as to one’s orientation, there is no motion sickness. When one or more sensory input(s) to the brain is not expected, or conflicts with what is anticipated, the end product is motion sickness.
Normally, an observer’s eye moves, compensating for the anticipated effect of motion, in such a manner that the image of an object moving relatively to an observer is held stationary on the retina. In almost every known environment that induces motion sickness, a change in the gain (in the signal-processing sense of "gain") of the vestibular system causes the motion of the eye to fail to hold images stationary on the retina, and the resulting motion of the images is termed retinal slip.
The present concept of stroboscopic goggles or eyeglasses (see figure) is based on the proposition that prevention of retinal slip, and hence, the prevention of sensory mismatch, can be expected to reduce the tendency toward motion sickness. A device according to this concept helps to prevent retinal slip by providing snapshots of the visual environment through electronic shutters that are brief enough that each snapshot freezes the image on each retina. The exposure time for each snapshot is less than 5 ms. In the event that a higher rate of strobing is necessary for adequate viewing of the changing scene during rapid head movements, the rate of strobing (but not the exposure time) can be controlled in response to the readings of rate-of-rotation sensors attached to the device.
The shutters are compact, fast-acting, low-voltage, low-current liquid-crystal display devices of the polymer-dispersed liquid-crystal type. The shutters are installed in the lens spaces in the goggle or eyeglass frame. Sensors that measure the rates of rotation about the yaw and pitch axis are attached to the frame. Also included is a controller unit that contains a low-frequency oscillator and a switchable driver that receives the rotation-sensor readings. As now envisioned, a user of a production version of the device could select any of at least four basic modes of operation:
- Mode 1: The device would be turned off.
- Mode 2: The shutters would be held transparent, allowing ordinary vision.
- Mode 3: The shutters would open at a standard stroboscopic flash rate of 4 Hz.
- Mode 4: The flash rate would be adjusted according to the sensed rates of rotation. The maximum flash rate would be 40 Hz.
The standard flash rate of 4 Hz was chosen partly on the basis of effectiveness in suppressing motion sickness and partly because it is low enough not to trigger seizures in most individuals afflicted with photosensitive epilepsy. (Approximately one person in 10,000 has photosensitive epilepsy, which is triggered by a number of visual phenomena, including, in most cases, lights flashing at rates between 15 and 20 Hz.) Preferably, individuals who have any form of epilepsy or any of a number of related disorders should not use this device.
This work was done by M. F. Reschke of Johnson Space Center and Jeffrey T. Somers of Wyle Laboratories. This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to
the Patent Counsel
Johnson Space Center
Refer to MSC-23444.