Self-driving cars aren’t nearly as close as some automakers or tech companies would like the rest of the world to think, but, while we’re all thinking about them, we might as well also think about the consequences as well. Not danger, nor death, nor a potential machine uprising—no, more simple than that.
It’s time we think about car sickness.
As found by Car and Driver, Volkswagen announced last week that even though autonomous cars aren’t close to being on the road yet, it’s working on ways to combat motion sickness once drivers do give up control and let the machines do the thinking. If no one’s driving and everyone’s simply a passenger, one more person will be susceptible to becoming carsick on the ride.
Volkswagen said in the announcement that car sickness is caused by a confusion in the motion the eyes see and body feels, which drivers can more easily avoid due to knowing what they plan to do next and how to adapt their body to it.
It can affect about a third of people, Volkswagen said, and it could become more common when driverless cars hit the road “possibly ... within the next decade.” No one knows how long that’s really going to be besides “a long time,” since even when the technology is ready, legislation needs to catch up.
Even still, the company’s conducting research in Germany on how to calm that motion sickness down when the era of the autonomous cars finally comes.
Volkswagen’s testing its ideas with people watching basic visuals on tablets as a car drives on a test track, and some of those ideas include changes to the cars themselves. From the press release:
In other tests, the Volkswagen Group researchers are exploring whether changes to the vehicles themselves might help prevent motion sickness. Such ideas include special movable seats that can react to driving changes and an LED light strip on the door panel that illuminates in green and red – providing a visual cue for the passenger of braking or acceleration.
Studies have shown that these inventions have already had some initial success. But the team still has some way to go, and further studies are in the pipeline. Their plans include examining not only the longitudinal forces that passengers feel when braking and accelerating, but also the transverse forces when taking corners.
Studying motion sickness is good preventative thinking when it comes to self-driving cars, even if they are an indefinitely long way out. Plenty of passengers get sick with the smoothest of drivers, even if they’re a real Ken-Block-filming-Gymkhana when the seats are reversed (looking at you, husband), so it’s only natural to expect motion sickness to still be a problem with autonomous tech.
And, as we all know or can probably guess, one of the worst ways to ruin that new-car smell is by replacing it with the attractive aroma of puke.