Making 3D easy on the eye

A new type of three-dimensional display could reduce eye fatigue experienced by virtual reality users

A man wearing a virtual reality headset

A new type of 3D display could improve the visual comfort of virtual reality users.  

Researchers from the University of Illinois have been tackling the problem of eye fatigue among VR users. 

Current VR headsets present 2D images in a way that prompts the brain to combine the images into an impression of a 3D scene. 

This type of display causes vergence-accommodation conflict, meaning that over time it becomes harder for the viewer to merge the images. The VR user may experience discomfort and eye fatigue. 

In research published in Optics Letters, scientists explore the possibility of getting around this visual discomfort with an approach called optical mapping.

Optical mapping involves using a digital display that is divided into subpanels. Each subpanel creates a 2D picture arranged at different depths. 

The device was tested using a display showing parked cars and a camera to record what the human eye would see.

Researchers found that the camera could focus on cars that appeared far away while the foreground was out of focus, and, conversely, it could also focus on cars that appeared closer while the background was blurry. 

The results suggest that the display creates depth perception in a similar way to how humans would naturally perceive a scene. 

The next steps for the project is to reduce the size, weight and power consumption of the system. 

Image credit: Maurizio Pesce