Could motion sickness put the brakes on autonomous motoring?

With autonomous cars now certain to be an inevitable part of our driving future, plenty of column inches have been spent explaining how much time will be freed up on our daily commutes for working, catching up with friends on social media, or watching series. And that’s great. Unless, like me, you suffer from motion sickness.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed driving is because it allows me to anticipate the movement of the car and forces me to keep my eyes on the road. I’m mostly fine in the front passenger seat, as long as there’s something to grip on but looking at my phone for more than a couple of seconds makes me feel woozy. Stick me in the back with an impeded view meanwhile and, as far as my brain’s concerned, you might as well be rolling me down a steep hill in a barrel full of rotting fish.

Thankfully, it seems that a group of scientists have realised nausea may actually be a problem in autonomous cars.

According to a new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, as much 10% of the population could suffer from motion sickness in autonomous cars.

The study’s authors say that this is largely down to the fact that the three main factors contributing to motion sickness — conflict between vestibular and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion, and lack of control over the direction of motion — are elevated in self-driving vehicles.

They do however note that the activities people would most likely engage in instead of driving could also be a large factor in adding to motion sickness in self-driving cars.

According to the authors, there are a couple of things manufacturers can do to alleviate the problem. Wider fields of view are one option (which involve taking the opposite approach to Merc’s F015 concept) and sticking screens straight ahead of passengers.

As for me? If you’re absolutely going to insist on sticking me in a self-driving car, give me a pretend steering wheel and pedals.



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