The sky is no longer the limit—but taking flight is dangerous. In leaving the Earth’s surface, we lose many of the cues we need to orient ourselves, and that spatial disorientation can be deadly. Astronauts normally need intensive training to protect against it. But scientists have now found that wearable devices which vibrate to give orientation cues may boost the efficacy of this training significantly, making spaceflight slightly safer.
“Long-duration spaceflight will cause many physiological and psychological stressors, which will make astronauts very susceptible to spatial disorientation,” said Dr. Vivekanand P. Vimal of Brandeis University in the United States, lead author of an article in Frontiers in Physiology on this topic. “When disoriented, an astronaut will no longer be able to rely on their own internal sensors, which they have depended on for their whole lives.”
The researchers used sensory deprivation and a multi-axis rotation device to test their vibrotactors in simulated spaceflight, so the senses participants would normally rely on were useless. Could the vibrotactors correct the misleading cues the participants would receive from their vestibular systems, and could participants be trained to trust them?
In total, 30 participants were recruited, of whom 10 received training to balance in the rotation device, 10 received the vibrotactors, and the remaining 10 received both. All participants were shown a video of the rotation device and told how it worked: moving like an inverted pendulum until it reached a crash boundary, unless it was stabilized by a person sitting in the device controlling it with a joystick.
Additional training, for the participants who received it, included tasks that taught…
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