Helping avoid motion sickness. The next step in autonomous cars?

June 3rd, 2019 by

Carsickness can happen to anyone: the confusion between the motion your eyes see, and the motion your body feels, can lead to a queasiness in your stomach or something worse. About a third of all people are susceptible to it—children more than adults, women more than men—but under the right conditions, anyone can suffer from it. And many of those conditions could become more common once autonomous vehicles hit the road.

At the Volkswagen Group research labs in Wolfsburg, scientists are studying what triggers car sickness and possible ways to help prevent it from happening in a future where a car can mostly drive itself.

“To put it simply, the forces acting on us in the car confuse our sense of perception,” says Adrian Brietzke of Volkswagen Group Research. This happens most often to passengers he says—the “driver’s privilege” of knowing what’s about to happen next allows them to adapt to the car’s motion.

But why do they think autonomous vehicles can help?

VW and Autonomous Vehicles strive to end motion sickness

At the test track in Germany, a female volunteer sits in the passenger seat of an Audi A4 sedan wearing various sensors and cameras designed to measure skin temperature, her pulse, and even changes in skin tone. For the 20-minute experiment, the vehicle will use Automatic Cruise Control to follow a “semi-autonomous” car that is traveling in a stop-start motion.

During the test, a computer tablet secured to the dashboard plays a video for the, soon to be motion sick, volunteer to watch. The visuals are swimming fish (rather than a major action flick), to help avoid triggering any emotions such as tension or happiness that could effect or skew the data. As the car moves, the volunteer rates her state of health—and it doesn’t take long for a change.

“I didn’t think I was that sensitive, but I felt queasy after just a few minutes,” says the volunteer.

In other tests, the researchers are exploring whether changes to the vehicles themselves might help to actually prevent motion sickness. Such ideas include special movable seats that can react to driving changes and an LED light strip on the door panel that illuminates – providing a visual cue for the passenger to imminent braking or acceleration.

Studies have shown that these innovations have already had some early successes. But we still have some way to go, and further studies are in the works. Plans include examining not only the longitudinal forces that passengers feel when braking and accelerating, but also the transverse forces when taking corners.

With the first truly autonomous vehicles possibly arriving within the next decade, finding a way to help control our propensity for motion sickness will be more important than ever.

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