The vestibular system is the primary biological method by which humans retain balance, spatial orientation, and both fine and gross motor skill coordination. One cause of vestibular alteration is a change to the gravity environment; this is particularly relevant to astronaut populations, who uniquely experience these gravity transitions in the temporal vicinity of atmospheric re-entry. As various issues with astronaut task performance were discovered to be due to vestibular alterations, significant research at NASA has focused on continued study of vestibular alteration, with specific focus on recreating these alterations via Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS).
In response to this need, Luna Innovations and partners propose the Three-Channel Wearable Adaptive Vestibular Stimulator, or 3WAVes. Development of 3WAVeS is enabled by Luna’s low-power embedded physiological electronics expertise, integration of an existing three-channel GVS stimulation paradigm, and real-world input from SMEs. 3WAVeS is designed as a completely wireless, non-invasive head-worn device that contains all electronics and hardware to perform accurate three-dimensional, head-coupled GVS.
Multiple layers of built-in hardware and software safety cutoffs ensure that overcurrent is never applied to the user during stimulation. Kinematic stimulation coupling is provided by an internal inertial measurement unit (IMU), and a simplified user interface allows an operator to monitor and adjust stimulation parameters such as axial sensitivity and velocity coupling, as well as observing, recording, and exporting of stimulation data. Bidirectional communication between the user interface and the device is afforded by secure wireless communications protocol. The headset’s compact, wireless, and self-contained form factor allows it to be used in a wide range of training environments. Additionally, a rechargeable battery permits un-recharged runtimes of 8+ hours.
The 3WAVeS System fits squarely into NASA’s need for a portable, head-coupled disorientation trainer. 3WAVeS will be specifically designed for use in the Human Research Program’s Sensorimotor Standards Project, but it could find significant use in other areas of Human Health Countermeasures, in the larger Human Research Program, or even within other branches of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
Vestibular disorientation is a major cause of aviation accidents in both military and civilian populations. Incorporation of disorientation-inducing 3WAVeS technology into initial and recurrent safety training would allow both military and civilian pilots to become familiarized with a wide range of disorienting vestibular sensations in a completely safe environment.