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Study: Some People Will Have Motion Sickness in Autonomous Cars

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Google Fully Functional Self-Driving Car ; artist's rendering, courtesy of Google

Google self-driving car; artist’s rendering courtesy of Google

Some people who ride in driverless cars may experience motion sickness, according to a new report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, as Jim Gorzelany writes for ForbesAn abstract of the report, whose lead researchers are Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, says that 6%-10% of adults riding in fully self-driving vehicles will “often, usually, or always” experience some level of motion sickness. In fact, 6 to 12% of people who ride in autonomous cars will experience moderate to severe motion sickness, according to the report, writes Nathan Bomey for Detroit Free Press.

The mechanisms that would cause the motion sickness include a conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, the passenger’s inability to anticipate the direction of the vehicle’s motion, and his or her lack of control over the direction the vehicle is traveling in, the abstract says. The report says the frequency and severity if motion sickness would depend on what the person was doing at the time, as Gorzelany writes. For example, passengers who are reading, watching movies or television, or texting or working while riding would be expected to suffer the most motion sickness, Gorzelany writes. Those riders who keep their eyes on the road are apt to have the least amount of motion sickness, he adds.

The researchers looked at a recent survey conducted in the U.S., China, India, Japan, the U.K., and Australia to determine how many people in vehicles would participate in such activities while passengers in self-driving cars, the abstract says. The researchers suggest ways to reduce the chances that passengers in autonomous vehicles will experience car sickness, Gorzelany reports. The ways include suggesting that carmakers tweak their designs so that self-driving cars have larger transparent windows, and place seats so that they face forward, and place screens so that passengers can view them while facing forward.

A prototype of a Mercedes-Benz autonomous car shown recently, with deeply tinted windows and rear-facing seats, would not prevent motion sickness, Gorzelany writes. Passengers could always take anti-nausea medications, but that is not a very practical solution to the problem, Gorzelany writes.

However, as Barry Sweezey writes in a comment to Bomey’s article, “Car passengers don’t get car sick. Why would a passenger sitting in a driver’s seat get sick?”

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