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AV Developers Seek to Solve Car Sickness

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June 24, 2021—An estimated 1 in 3 people is susceptible to motion sickness, particularly in moving vehicles. Most people know that it can be most acute in passengers rather than the driver.

So what if everyone in the vehicle is a passenger?

That's a real issue that autonomous vehicle developers hope to solve, or at least alleviate. If those companies envision a future of self-driving transportation, their business models depend on passengers holding down their lunches while getting from A to B.

Researchers and vehicle developers are looking at this issue in some interesting ways. Take a look at some of the work being done.

Volvo: Perception is Wellness

For many people, being in the driver's seat is less likely to cause car sickness because you have some control over how the vehicle is moving. According to researchers at Volvo, this allows drivers to adjust their body postures and prepare their brains for vehicle movement.

Of course, riders in an AV don't have that benefit of foresight. But the company is experimenting with cues to give passengers a heads up, according to a Wall Street Journal report. These include audio cues that simulate engine noise about a second before the vehicle takes a turn or accelerates. 

Hard data didn't make it into the article, but it notes that passengers in trials felt less sick when hearing the audio cues.

Jaguar: What's Your Wellness Score?

Jaguar Land Rover is looking into the creation of a wellness score that can be a part of the self-driving software in its autonomous vehicles. When implemented correctly, the score can help reduce car sickness by 60 percent, according to Car and Driver.

The company studied 200,000 test miles (simulated and actual) to try and learn about the vehicle dynamics that cause sickness. The score takes that data and reflects how likely a given on-road situation will make someone nauseous.

By linking that system into the self-driving software, the idea is that the computer can adjust to achieve the best wellness score to be least likely to cause sickness.

Zoox: Smooth, Bi-Directional Sailing

Autonomous startup Zoox feels like it has a leg up over the competition because it's designing and building its vehicles from scratch. One feature is that the vehicles could be bi-directional, or able to simply stop and start driving the other way.

Does that open up opportunities for more sickness? Mark Rosekind, chief safety innovation officer at Zoox told The Verge that they don't think so. He said that trains already move bi-directionally and are commonly used. 

Moreover, the company is relying on adaptive suspension systems that should make the ride much smoother. Mixed with four-wheel steering, the system allows the vehicle to control each wheel's speed, power and direction independently and adjust for road conditions.

Research in Michigan

Researchers at the University of Michigan have been studying this issue with autonomous vehicles in mind. Monica Jones, an assistant research scientist in the Biosciences Group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), summarized the concern that if riders are always nauseous in an autonomous vehicle, then it doesn't really matter how wonderful the technology is.

“One of the great promises of autonomous vehicles—to give us back time by freeing us from driving—is at risk if we can’t solve the motion sickness problem,” Jones said in a summary of the research findings. “If it’s not mitigated in some way, motion sickness may affect people’s willingness to adopt driverless cars.”

One goal of the research was to develop a reliable test for evaluating "specific real-world driving maneuvers and passenger activities that make people carsick." With that baseline, it wouldn't take as much exploratory testing to get results in the future.

The end goal is a mathematical model of motion sickness that can take testing off of the roads and into more efficient computer modeling. Researchers said that this can help to fine-tune self-driving software for optimal braking, acceleration, and turning conditions.

But it's a challenge. Motion sickness doesn't hit everyone in the same way.

“We have found that passenger responses are complicated and have many dimensions,” Jones said in the university report. “Applications of this testbed will result in the data we need to identify preventative measures and alleviate motion sickness in autonomous vehicles.”

Image: Zoox

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