Levelling out: How seasickness grounded this Change Maker’s dream then turned it into reality

  • 19/03/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

Ready to turn a dream into a reality, Dudley Jackson spent two years doing up his boat, before he and his wife sold the house, packed up the kids and the family dog, and set off with plans to sail the world. 

It sounds like something out of a movie, and you would think once on board the only thing you might have to worry about is sharks and the odd giant wave. 

But for Jackson an unexpected obstacle got in the way - seasickness. 

After getting out into choppy waters, he realised he was among the quarter of the population who suffers from seasickness: a debilitating condition for someone hoping to spend his life on the water. 

"That put an end to that," Jackson told Newshub. "I could never go around the world or the oceans." 

After he and his family returned to solid ground, Jackson took up a career as an IT engineer and fed his passion for the ocean for a decade running a sailing school in his spare time. 

But it was one day when his son showed him a virtual reality (VR) headset the two worlds collided and sparked an idea that would go on to change his life. 

Dell and The Project are recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign, and innovator Dudley is this month’s Change Maker.

"When my son showed me a race car game I got sick within minutes," Jackson revealed, adding that he's since discovered motion sickness is a "massive problem" in the VR industry. 

"Designers of games now have to put a motion sickness rating on each game - people are becoming more aware of the issue," he said. 

"I thought if VR could make you sick so quickly, could it make you 'un-sick'? I bet the designers have never tried it on a boat. I thought 'what would happen?'

"That was the lightbulb moment." 

What is seasickness? 

Seasickness is a common trait which affects a quarter of the population, and Jackson says it's a biological, "caveman" response to the body thinking it's been poisoned. 

"The disturbance is a visual disturbance - it's not so much the movement of the boat but what you're seeing," he explained. 

"It goes back to caveman times. If you ate some bad meat you would get poisoned and one of the first things that it affects is the eyes."

So if the mountains around you start suddenly moving, your body recognises it's been poisoned, and has the "natural reaction to vomit it up". 

The same thing happens on the boat - the interior around you which normally would be fixed starts swaying - the body thinks it's been poisoned, and you have an urge to vomit. 

Jackson says he had experience helping nauseous sailors treat their seasickness on board. 

"I'd put them on the tiller or the wheel - one, it gives them a task and two, gives them a fixed focus. "They must look where they're going in the distance - they can't look around the boat." 

Levelling out: How seasickness grounded this Change Maker’s dream then turned it into reality

See-LEVEL was born

With his knowledge of focal points and how to alleviate sea sickness, Jackson decided to utilize VR. He used cardboard and a basic mobile phone app developed to become his own guinea pig.

"I rowed out to my boat in the storm with my $5 cardboard and my iPhone," he recounts. "I put on my headset and within a few minutes I started to feel some relief -that's when I knew I was on to something. We've reversed the usage of the headset completely." 

Enter the See-LEVEL VR headset: upon placing it over their eyes,  seasick passengers will be totally immersed in a calming scene with a strong focal point - Jackson says they'll appear under a tree by a lake. 

"It's one of the oldest tricks - suddenly you're in a stable relationship with what you're seeing," he explained.   

Testing the technology was no easy task. 

"We had to find the right spot in the harbour to get people sick  - then we could take their baselines and heart rates," he explained. "We noticed a sharp increase in heart rate when going from 3 to 7 on the motion sickness scale. Just before vomiting the heart starts racing and that's when the body is going into shock. 

"[When they] put the headset on, within one to three minutes their heart rate dropped 15 beats a minute. 

"The time taken to get rid of full nausea depends on how long they've had it. But if they put [the headset] on quickly, it's really effective." 

Regular sea sickness sufferers can undergo further 40-minute training, called Incremental Neural Training (INT), which introduces movement to the scene based on data streamed directly from the vessel’s movement. 

"We thought maybe we might be able to train the brain on accepting the movements - an old trick if you go away on a coastal voyage is to spend a few nights onboard [the boat] first and allow your body to adjust to the movement. 

"Then by the time you go out to sea you're already halfway there."

Jackson says the method has been used by NASA, pilots and sailors for years, and "isn't unusual". 

"But using virtual reality to control the habitation is new and that's what we've patented." 

Levelling out: How seasickness grounded this Change Maker’s dream then turned it into reality

Who can use it?

While the technology will of course be a game changer for the cruise industry, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on travel have scuppered those plans. 

But the technology is still having an impact - on an industry you might not expect. 

"We identified a couple of markets still working and we found an extremely large one in Europe we're trying to tap into - the wind farm maintenance market," Jackson revealed. 

"England and other European countries are aiming to be hundred percent reliant on wind farm energy by 2030 - there are wind farms of 100 plus turbines popping up all around europe." According to Jackson, over 500 sea vessels are currently going out every day with engineers servicing the turbines - and seasickness effecting maintenance workers is much more serious if they then have to climb up a 300 foot turbine to service it. 

"What a wonderful opportunity," said Jackos, adding there were further trials set to take place in Taiwan. 

Auckland's Defence Force are also trialling the kits, and Jackson says they hope to make waves in the Australian tourism industry, with boats for reef diving, whale watching and fishing. 

If you know someone who goes that extra mile to support and shape a better future for their communities, nominate them here and they could be a winner of a brand new Dell XPS 13 laptop.

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