Remember back when virtual reality was being touted as the Next Big Thing – the first time around? Videogame maker Sega developed a mass-market head-tracking VR system and showed it to reporters and industry representatives with great fanfare at the 1993 winter Consumer Electronics Show. It performed as advertised, carried an affordable $200 price tag and was set to launch the following year.
Unfortunately, among other issues, testers reportedly developed headaches and motion sickness using the headset and the system was quietly shelved.
A report just issued by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, suggests a similar problem could befall those riding in autonomous-driving cars. According to the study’s authors Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, that’s because the three main factors that trigger motion sickness – specifically, a conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, an inability to anticipate the direction of motion and a lack of control over the direction of motion – tend to be elevated in self-driving vehicles.
The report suggests between six and 10 percent of Americans riding in autonomous vehicles would be expected to always, or at least usually, suffer some degree of motion sickness. What’s more, the frequency and severity suffered can be expected to vary depending on what an occupant is doing at the time instead of driving. Those reading, watching movies or television, texting and working while on autopilot should suffer the most motion sickness, while those who steadfastly keep their eyes on the road are likely to endure the least measure of discomfort.
Some might find riding in Google’s planned self-driving car to be an unsettling experience, in more ways than one.
Authors Sivak and Schoettle suggest automakers can design self-driving cars specifically to help reduce the inherent proclivity for car sickness, including having large transparent windows to maximize an occupant’s visual field and orienting seats and displays so that riders are facing forward. Mercedes-Benz recently showed a prototype driverless car that featured deeply tinted windows and rear-facing front seats, which would apparently be a no-no in this regard. Alternately, riders prone to the malady could always take anti-nausea medications, though this is not a particularly practical solution for various reasons. Beyond that, riders could take a nap, or at the least keep their eyes closed while the vehicle is in motion, which is said to help minimize motion sickness.
Whichever automaker becomes the first to market a fully autonomous vehicle might take heed to place one important item on the standard equipment list – a barf bag.
More at Forbes