Could driverless cars solve carsickness?

November 20, 2018 06:01 CET

As veteran car-testers on our staff can confirm, there is nothing quite like being stuck in the passenger seat as an overzealous auto writer twists and turns through country curves and mountain switchbacks.

Wired magazine says about 70 percent of passengers suffer motion sickness. Now consider the driverless world of the future, when we’ll all be passengers. What then?

Scientists say there is no consensus about the causes of car queasiness and what can be done about it. But Jaguar Land Rover researcher Spencer Salter has taken up the case.

Salter, who turned to the subject for his Ph.D. at Coventry University in the U.K., has subjected himself to everything from zip lines to roller coasters to rally cars, all to gain a better understanding of the problem.

“I made myself sick a lot of times,” Salter told Wired.

To gauge how the body reacts in such situations, he wore fitness watches, a heart rate monitor and sensors that tracked his body temperature and skin response.

“The point was to find the physical signals that come with queasiness, signals a car might be able to detect and account for,” said the magazine.

JLR wants to test some of Slater’s findings in its prototypes. If a vehicle could sense the onset of nausea, countermeasures could be taken. The automaker isn’t going into detail, but Wired speculates there could be Apple Watch-style heart rate sensors embedded in seats, along with cameras and sensors to check passengers’ physiological readings.

At the sign of trouble, the temperature could be lowered or the seat adjusted to put passengers more upright, or they could be made better aware of the horizon somehow — always good if you’re dizzy. Or the system could stiffen the car’s suspension to prevent swaying.

Sigh! The autonomous driving future: What annoying unforeseen consequences will we think of next?

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