A patent reveals a system designed to stimulate self-driving car passengers to eliminate motion sickness so they can read, work or play in transit
Uber is working on a system to prevent travel sickness in cars, which it sees as a barrier to the adoption of self-driving vehicles, stopping people from doing other things as they are ferried to their destination.
According to a patent, which describes a “sensory stimulation system for autonomous vehicles”, Uber plans to use vibrating and moving seats, the flow of air targeting the face or other part of the body, and light bars and screens to prevent passengers from feeling travel sick.
“With the advent of autonomous vehicle technology, rider attention may be focused on alternative activities, such as work, socialising, reading, writing, task-based activities and the like,” Uber says in the patent. “As the autonomous vehicle travels along an inputted route, kinetosis (motion sickness) can result from the perception of motion by a rider not corresponding to the rider’s vestibular [balance and spatial orientation] senses.”
Uber’s plan is to have a system that can stimulate the occupants as the self-driving car makes turns, brakes or accelerates, not necessarily to mimic the experience of being outside the car but instead provide distractions and learned responses to motion.
For instance the seats could vibrate when breaking, or “a number of motors can control pitch, roll and/or yaw of the seat” in response to turns. Uber proposes using either “light bars” mounted in the ceiling or doors, or screens around the cabin, to show the vehicle’s intentions so that passengers know when the car is about to turn, accelerate or brake.
Uber also plans to use airflow in the cabin to provide passive stimulation: “when the AV is about to brake, the sensory stimulation system can utilise the airflow system to modify airflow within the cabin – including speed/intensity, direction, temperature, timing, pulse rate and height”. Jets of air will be aimed at the rider’s head, shoulders, torso, arms, legs or feet.
“Stimulation can train the sensory responses of riders to prevent kinetosis due to uncorrelated vestibular v visual perception,” says Uber.
Whether the system will actually work remains to be seen, but the benefit of having a computer driver instead of a human is that the computer will know when it is about to perform a manoeuvre and be able to time the anti-sickness system accordingly.
A recent study published in Experimental Brain Research showed that airflow systems have been effective at reducing motion sickness, although seat vibration showed no improvement in testing.
Given that one of the proposed benefits of autonomous vehicles is the ability to claim back commuting time, allowing drivers to do other things while the car drives them to work, travel sickness could be a barrier to adoption, both for Uber-like services and privately sold self-driving cars.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Lead Image: Uber is trying to make sure self-driving car passengers can still do other things without experiencing sickness while ion the move. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images