Terrifying Driving Simulator Lets a Player Feel a Cars Motions by Short-Circuiting Their Sense of Balance


If youre a fan of racing sims, a steering wheel controller is a must-have accessory, but its also a slippery slope towards spending thousands of dollars on a motion simulator for the full experience. YouTubes Mean Gene Hacks spent just $50 on their simulator that translates an in-game vehicles motions to a player, but it does so using some creepy electrical stimulation of nerves that help maintain a humans balance.

Your typical driving simulator usually features a racing-style seat with a steering wheel, pedals, shifters, and a bunch of giant screens filling a drivers view, all perched atop a platform connected to pneumatic pistons that move the cockpit around in 3D space to more or less match the motions of an on-screen vehicle. It can add a convincing level of realism to a racing game or simulator as the player feels the simulated forces of being in a real car, but all that hardware means these rigs are often priced well north of $50,000. But what if the human body could be convinced to recreate all those moves on its own without the pricy hardware?

It turns out a process called galvanic vestibular stimulationalso known as GVScan be used to alter a humans sense of balance by electrically stimulating a nerve in the ear using electrodes. Researchers havent quite figured out the best uses of the technologymedical, military, and entertainment companies are all investigating itbut when used properly it can convince a person that they need to move their bodies to the left or right to maintain balance, which the body will automatically do all on its own, even if theyre standing perfectly still. As a result theres a peculiar side effect of GVS: the technology can be used to partially control a humans movements as if they were being operated remotely.

Thats exactly what Mean Gene Hacks is doing here. Using about $50 worth of external hardware (plus the cost of a gaming PC) theyve made BeamNG.drive, a highly realistic physics-based driving simulatorinterface with GVS hardware. Custom code translates an in-game vehicles motions into the electrical signals that alter a players balance, which are delivered to a players nerve endings through a pair of adhesive electrodes that attach to the neck just behind the earlobes. The resulting effect has the player uncontrollably leaning to the left or to the right while playing, as if effected by the same G-forces the car in the game is experiencing.

Its no where near the same driving experience as youd get in a simulator, the hacked together alternative doesnt really translate forward and back motions to the player when a vehicle is accelerating or braking in the game, but the lateral side to side motions, when a vehicle is tearing around a corner at high speeds, are very much felt, and maybe even too much so. As Mean Gene Hacks points out, as their body repeatedly leans from side to side, the effects of the galvanic vestibular stimulation actually make driving in the game very difficult, as a humans sense of balance governs so much of how they move.

Because galvanic vestibular stimulation isnt in wide use yet its not entirely known how safe it is or isnt, but preliminary studies seem to indicate that so far there have been no unwanted side effects observed in patients using the technology to assist with stroke recovery. It will, however, be a while before we see companies like Nintendo releasing fun GVS accessories for their consoles. If the Wiis heart-rate monitoring Vitality sensor was deemed too controversial to ever see the light of day, what chance does a technology that manipulates human balance have?



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