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Underwater virtual reality system for neutral buoyancy training: Development and evaluation
AdvisorMacNeilage, Paul R
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During terrestrial activities, sensation of pressure on the skin and tension in muscles and joints provides information about how the body is oriented relative to gravity and how the body is moving relative to the surrounding environment. In contrast, in aquatic environments when suspended in a state of neutral buoyancy, the weight of the body and limbs is offloaded, rendering these cues uninformative. It is not yet known how this altered sensory environment impacts virtual reality experiences. To investigate this question, we converted a full-face SCUBA mask into an underwater head-mounted display and developed software to simulate jetpack locomotion outside the International Space Station. Our goal was to emulate conditions experienced by astronauts during training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. A user study was conducted to evaluate both sickness and presence when using virtual reality in this altered sensory environment. We observed an increase in nausea related symptoms underwater, but we cannot conclude that this is due to VR use. Other measures of sickness and presence underwater were comparable to measures taken above water. We conclude with suggestions for improved underwater VR systems and improved methods for evaluation of these systems based on our experience.