University of Michigan Researchers Examining Motion Sickness in Autonomous Cars

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【Summary】According to researchers at the University of Michigan, autonomous cars could exacerbate motion sicknesses in riders, as no one’s really driving the vehicle. Why and how automakers could prevent this are things researchers are looking to answer.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 25, 2019 2:00 PM PT
University of Michigan Researchers Examining Motion Sickness in Autonomous Cars

Motion sickness is something that happens to a lot of drivers and passengers when they're going for a ride in a car. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) claims that up to one-third of Americans suffer from motion sickness. So when your friend tells you that your driving is making them nauseous, it's probably not a joke. With autonomous cars, no one's driving, so motion sickness will probably be more severe.

Trying To Find A Cure For Motion Sickness
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of organizations out there that are looking into making autonomous vehicles less nauseating. The study, while one of the first of its kind in the U.S, came about because autonomous cars are being hyped as mobile offices or houses on the go. But if you're too nauseous to read, use a laptop, or do anything else, what's the use?
"Very few studies have been conducted in cars; instead, a lot of the work has been done for sea and air transportation modes, performed in driving simulators or on motion platforms," said Monica Jones, an assistant research scientist and lead investigator of the study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.  
To gather their data, the university put 52 participants through some driving tests at its Mcity Test Facility through what it claims were "normal driving maneuvers." The urban environment allowed for the participants to go on rides that included turns, accelerations, and stops – the usual stuff you'd experience when going for a ride in a city. It wasn't as simple as just sitting in a car and enjoying the ride, though. Instead, participants were tasked with completing basic tasks, which was completed on an iPad, and answer questions that a researcher in the vehicle asked.
During the drive and questioning, sensors took note of a participant's physiological response , which included things like heart rate, sweat, and skin temperature. Cameras inside the vehicle kept a record of what the passengers looked like during the test.

Younger Passengers Reported Higher Rates Of Motion Sickness
The findings aren't exactly revolutionary, as the university found that finding a handheld device while a car is in motion increases the feeling of motion sickness. Another interesting finding was that younger individuals – those with an average age of 26 years old – reported higher motion sickness ratings than older people – those that were 67 years old on average.
With the basis of the test complete and the knowledge of how to go about with a similar test in the future, researchers are hoping to understand why and how to cure motion sickness for self-driving cars in the future. Whether that involves self-driving cars that drive a certain way or the way seats and windows are arranged in a vehicle.
"We have found that passenger responses are complicated and have many dimensions," said Jones. "Applications of this testbed will result in the data we need to identify preventative measures and alleviate motion sickness in autonomous vehicles."

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