NIU Researchers Study Ergonomic Guidelines for Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Interactions

Team sets guidelines to help reduce the discomfort in neck and shoulders

Simulation training is a beneficial tool for those who work in dangerous settings, and it’s on the rise thanks to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets that make it easier to use and more affordable than ever. In 2019, Facebook rolled out its Oculus Quest headset that sells as fast as it can be made. Yet, they’re not just for gamers – industry has found uses for headsets, too.
Using VR and AR headsets, trainers can put first responders, medical personnel, or military, for example, in the middle of real-life scenarios while keeping them safe in a virtual/augmented environment. But what are the impacts on the user’s neck and shoulders during extended use of VR/AR?

That’s the question that Asst. Professor Jaejin Hwang, Ph.D. of NIU’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Department of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) set out to answer with his team of researchers including Jay Kim, Ph. D. of Oregon State University (OSU) and two NIU graduate students, Sai Akhil Penumudi and Veera Aneesh Kuppam.

The study was conducted with data collected in the Wellness and Ergonomics Lab at NIU and was published in the journal Applied Ergonomics.

They found that the least amount of impact to the neck and shoulders occurs when the target that the user would be pointing or swiping is between the user’s eye level and 15° below eye level.
“Unlike in a traditional desktop setting, there is a lack of standard or ergonomic guidelines for VR/AR usage. Our results identify the optimal location, size, and distance of the target in VR/AR. This information would be useful for designers to consider to reduce the discomfort or fatigue of users,” said Hwang. “It could allow users to train for longer periods of time with less strain or pain to their neck and shoulders.”

But these researchers are not done. Two follow-up studies are in progress at NIU and OSU.

Hwang with two NIU graduate students (Hemateja Ari and Charan Madasu) and Kim with OSU student (James Wilson) have explored AR interactions to study the effects on neck and shoulders when there are variations in the type of the task (dragging, pointing, and web-browsing), the size and the distance of the holograms from the user. This study has been funded by the Office Ergonomics Research Committee (OERC). The study was conducted with data collected in the Wellness and Ergonomics Lab at NIU with apps developed by Kim’s group at OSU.

Kim and his student (Kiana Kia) are leading a study at OSU with Hwang as a collaborator in charge of the biomechanical assessment of the neck and shoulders. Together, they’re collaborating with NIU Assoc. Professor of Allied Health and Communication Disorders In-Sop Kim to study the cognitive and physical effects to the user when a level of frustration is added to the VR/AR interactions. To accomplish this, Kim’s group embedded an error in the app that the user unexpectedly encounters and must “click” repeatedly to continue.

“We are so proud of the research like Dr. Hwang’s that impacts the lives of people everywhere,” said Donald Peterson, Ph. D. dean of the NIU CEET. “The ability to increase the effectiveness of training in the workforce and keeping workers safe is the kind of ethics we try to instill in our students.”

So what’s next in the study? “We assume that lightweight upper extremity exoskeletons might be helpful to reduce the stress of neck and shoulders by supporting the user’s arms,” said Hwang. “We have been working on the research proposals to initiate this study.” An exoskeleton is a wearable device that can be powered or unpowered that, unlike a robot that is autonomous, can increase a human’s strength and/or capability.

Read the full study here. To learn more about CEET engineering degrees please visit

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