Inventor Sam Owen shows of the OtoTech, a device that prevents motion sickness by sending subtle vibrations through the inner ear to the brain.

Inventor Sam Owen shows of the OtoTech, a device that prevents motion sickness by sending subtle vibrations through the inner ear to the brain. Sam Owen

This Inventor May Have Cured Motion Sickness Without Drugs. And That Could Mean a Lot to the US Military

One manufacturer of virtual-reality trainers has already begun including the devices in its simulators.

An inventor may have discovered a non-pharmaceutical cure for car sickness that could revolutionize the way people experience everything from travel to the newest virtual-reality headsets. That, in turn, could affect how the military trains, fights, and navigates.

Just like civilians, troops get motion-sick. A 2009 study by the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory found that more than half of soldiers got sick while riding in Army vehicles. Roughly 25 percent of military personnel got sick on “moderate seas” and 70 percent on “rough seas.” In the air, as many as 50 percent of personnel get airsick; even 64 percent of parachutists reported episodes.

To treat symptoms, troops typically take a drug called scopolamine. It has serious side-effects, most notably drowsiness, so soldiers often take it with an amphetamine that carries its own downsides and side effects. It’s like being on uppers and downers at once, which makes for a fatiguing Friday night, much less a war.

The military’s problems with motion sickness will worsen considerably as more and more training is conducted in virtual reality.

“The availability of immersive learning environments like virtual-augmented-mixed reality afforded by commercial off-the-shelf technology fosters has the potential to create the paradigm shift necessary to deliver the most ready force ever known,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Strohmeyer, the 560th Flying Training Squadron commander. Yet VR training, in particular, can make troops sick. “Though we have made great strides in understanding the true causes of air sickness, from a cellular physiology perspective, much is still to be learned especially when it comes to cyber sickness,”

The Air Force Research Lab is currently looking at the effects of motion sickness among a small group of “future instructor pilots” that are training with a new syllabus that uses virtual reality. The research brings in experts from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology as well as physiologists and small businesses. “Our findings will further inform safety countermeasures to ensure aviators can meet the demand of any physiological threat that presents itself,” said Strohmeyer.

The Air Force isn’t just looking to use VR for pilots. They’ve contracted with a Portland, Oregon-based company called VR Motion to train truck drivers. “What we’ve learned is that the current method for training hasn’t been updated for decades,” said Keith Maher, the company’s founder and CEO. “Driving a large combat vehicle like a Humvee, or an up-armored Humvee on public roads, is actually counter to what they [the Humvees] are designed to do. On public roads, there will be pedestrians and small vehicles. The large blind spots that you have in a Humvee are something you need to train for...With our virtual reality technology we can recreate high-hazard situations whenever we want.”

But as many gamers are today discovering, VR can have big motion-sickness effects.

“Historically, we’ve seen about a 20 to 30 percent discomfort level” with VR training, Maher said. “That’s a big number for us if we want our product to go out and change the lives of millions of people.”

Enter a young inventor named Samuel Owen, who has developed a prototype device called the OtoTech. Worn on a headband behind the ear, it uses subtle vibrations to change the way the brain computes the fact that the body that it’s attached to is in motion. Early tests show it relieves motion sickness without the side effects of drugs, Owen said, though he admits the science is so young that it’s not clear just how.

The vibrations emanating from the OtoTech gently target two of the four fibers that carry data about body motion to the brain via a system of inner ear sensors called the vestibulocochlear nerve. “Two [of the four vestibulocochlear nerve fibers] go to the brain, two go to your reflexes,” Owen said. The trick is to affect the former and not the latter.

“The working hypothesis is that [the vibration] causes a chaotic and noninformative stimulus to go to the brain. Somewhere, probably the cerebellum, there’s a filtering mechanism that filters out noninformative sensed information. It’s the reason you don’t notice the shirt on your back right now,” he said.

In other words, while you remain consciously aware that you’re moving, the balance portion of your brain stops noticing the fact; the data has been drowned out in white noise from the device.

So far, he says, initial testing shows that it works to prevent motion sickness without affecting balance, vision, alertness, or anything else it’s not supposed to.

Researchers at Jaguar Land Rover are conducting double-blind trials with the device, moving toward publication, he says. Medical researchers at Coventry University in the U.K. and the University of Miami are looking at therapeutic applications related to treating vertigo.

Owen says that he has initially marketed the device to vertigo sufferers, and not yet to the military, or even the motion-sickness market.  But Maher has begun to incorporate Owen’s device into his VR trainers.

“We noticed that it would improve the overall virtual reality experience,” said Maher. “We’ve started to use it in our military devices. The initial reaction is, it looks unusual, but afterwards, people don’t event notice.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.