Autonomous Vehicles

VW is working on ways to prevent nausea in self-driving cars

Taking your eyes off the horizon for even a few seconds can bring a world of hurt.

I'd probably feel carsick, too, if I was getting driven around with that thing on my head.

Volkswagen

It took me years to condition myself to be able to look at my phone from the passenger seat of a moving vehicle without getting nauseous, and there are countless others still trying to make that happen for themselves. When self-driving cars begin to litter the landscape, occupants might be rightfully worried about how the cars will drive and whether or not they might make people sick. Thankfully, Volkswagen is trying to figure out ways around that.

Volkswagen last week published a release chronicling the ways that the automaker is attempting to mitigate car sickness for passengers of autonomous vehicles. The OEM is looking at two specific things: What makes a person sick in a car, and how to mitigate that in the future.

To figure this out, Volkswagen is putting people in cars and making them sick (really). In its release, it mentions a specific scenario: A volunteer wears sensors and cameras to measure various things like pulse and body temperature. That person is taken around a test track, following behind a semiautonomous vehicle operating "in a stop-start motion," mimicking traffic. The volunteer must watch a video displayed on a dashboard-mounted tablet the whole time the test is running. The test passenger mentioned in the release said she doesn't normally get carsick, but in this test, she did.

VW is trying to figure out ways to mitigate this onset of nausea. The automaker mentioned the idea of movable seats that could physically react to changes in vehicle physics, as well as a set of LED light strips that tell users when the car is braking or accelerating, hopefully syncing up the brain and inner ear with the motions experienced through the vehicle. VW claims that there has been "some initial success," but it's still working to ensure that whatever countermeasures it devises will be useful for those in the real world.

It doesn't take a self-driving car to make you nauseous as a passenger, obviously. I felt under the weather trying to operate a trunk-mounted camera while riding shotgun around a track, and it took fewer than three laps to start feeling unwell. Taking my eyes off the screen and focusing solely on the horizon did help, but when it comes to autonomous cars, one of their perceived benefits is the ability to get some work done on a commute, and immediately getting carsick would negate that. VW's smart to try and get ahead of this, lest we find a whole subset of civilization unsuited for AVs from a gastrointestinal standpoint.

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