A new car sickness solution developed by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) has the potential to improve travel for those who suffer from the debilitating malady. Because passengers—and not drivers—are most likely to develop motion sickness, the discovery could be coming at an auspicious time.
"This is more important with the introduction of autonomous vehicles," said UMTRI research professor Michael Sivak. "In autonomous cars, everyone will be a passenger. So you will have a larger potential pool of sick people. The protection that drivers have received from driving won't be there anymore."
Motion sickness occurs when a person's brain receives conflicting information from the eyes, ears, and extremities. When riding in a car, the inner ear senses motion, though the rest of the body may not. It is more prevalent in passengers than in drivers because the driver is focused on what is going on outside of the vehicle while the passenger is often reading, looking at a phone, talking, or doing something else to direct their focus away from the outside world they’re passing through. According to the UMTRI researchers, nearly half of American adults experience some level of motion sickness if they read a book while riding in a car.
The UMTRI solution uses a two-part system to deliver light stimuli in the peripheral area of the passenger's field of vision. Researchers created two devices—one, which looks like a pair of glasses, to be worn by the passenger, and the other, a light array that’s built into the vehicles’ interior. Each device is lined with small lights that are activated to simulate the images seen out the window of a moving car, allowing the rider’s peripheral sight to better synchronize with their inner ear, ultimately decreasing the chances of motion sickness. The light stimuli would not affect the passenger's ability to look at a book or to do other tasks while in the vehicle.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded the devices a patent on Jan. 9.
If commercialized, UMTRI’s solution could have a considerable impact on a person's ability to be comfortable when riding in a self-driving car, ultimately lowering the passenger’s chances of becoming nauseated, fatigued, or otherwise unwell when the car's computer is driving the vehicle.
This is especially valuable for those who will want to work during their commutes in self-driving vehicles, allowing them to tend to tasks on computers and tablets, read documents, take notes, and so on without having to worry about feeling car sick.
"The productivity gains that the proponents of self driving vehicles are talking about may not happen if we don't address the motion sickness problem," Sivak said.
UMTRI researchers are in discussions with automotive and technology developers to start building their cure for car sickness into autonomous cars.