Researchers patent system to prevent motion sickness in self-driving cars

One of the promised benefits of self-driving cars is the extra time they will free up for drivers, who will no longer have to worry about driving duties and can instead use their journeys to watch TV, work or read a book.

But as drivers hand over control to a computer, one age-old problem threatens to derail any productivity gains – motion sickness.

In autonomous cars, everyone will be a passenger. So you will have a larger potential pool of sick people.
— Michael Sivak, U-M Transportation Research Institute

When someone in a moving vehicle isn’t watching the road, a conflict between what their bodies feel and what they can see can cause motion sickness.

Indeed, it’s estimated that about half of adults suffer from the condition when reading a book in a moving vehicle.



But there’s good news for drivers eager to make better use of the time they currently spend behind the wheel.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have received a patent on a system to combat motion sickness. Their approach works by providing light stimuli around the edges of a passenger’s vision, mimicking what the passenger might see outside the vehicle.

In doing so, the system – whose patent covers both wearable and vehicle-based versions – promises to eliminate the conflict behind motion sickness.

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) are behind the patent.

“This is more important with the introduction of autonomous vehicles,” said Sivak, a research professor at UMTRI.

“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.”

“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,” added Sivak.

But if their new system does solve it, tomorrow’s passengers may have a lot to thank them for.