Virtual insanity: VR software could see more of us trying out prototypes

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Virtual reality is finally starting to fulfil decades of Tomorrow’s World promises and filter into everyday life. It’s even forged a place in the development of new bikes at Yamaha. What’s more, Yamaha have repaid the favour and developed systems to improve VR for everyone else.

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VR has been straddling the line between sci-fi and sci-fact for years, with crazy promises made in movies from Tron to The Matrix and Ready Player One reflected in disappointing real-world VR setups with clunky graphics and unwieldy controls. Recently, though, the advent of impressive home systems means the tech is finally coming of age.

For most of us that might mean the chance to explore new places from our living rooms through computer games, but for Yamaha VR opens new doors to improve product development. Masayuki Miki, a member of the joint research team in the Fundamental Technology Research Division at Yamaha’s Technical R&D Centre, explains: "Yamaha has been using riding simulators built around actual motorcycles for some time.

"Since VR allows us to ‘ride’ a wide range of products on all kinds of road environments we’ve created, our simulators and VR equipment play an important role in our research into rider–machine dynamics. It also goes toward achieving our Jin-Ki Kanno development ideal [which is about bikes providing fulfilment as well as transport]."

Yamaha using VR tech to develop motorbikes

In short, it means Yamaha can simulate real-world prototype bikes on the computer, experiment with handling and setup changes and test on a variety of roads to reflect different surfaces and weather, all without the hassle of doing it in real life. Bad news for spy photographers hoping to pap a new model, but great for speeding up development.

But there was a problem. Like many new VR users, Yamaha found their test riders would experience ‘VR sickness’ – nausea brought on as your body struggles to match the visual signals from the VR headset with other sensations that give a different message.

Much work has already gone into reducing this, with a focus on minimising response time in the displays, but Yamaha’s own development has now formed the basis of a scientific paper that shows how adding sound and vibration to match the visual signals helps solve the problem.

"We already had our own theories based on experience, for example no accompanying sound in the simulations seemed to make the sickness worse or that vibration seemed to help reduce its degree, but we had no clear evidence," said Miki.

He went on to explain that VR means a far bigger group of people (perhaps even customers) will be able to ‘ride’ prototypes, saying: "If this project leads to a substantive solution, it’ll be possible to have riders with different techniques and perceptions participate in tests."

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Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis