21 September 2016

Scientists making passengers sick on purpose – what’s the world coming to?

Autonomous or ‘driverless’ cars are the hot topic these days, not just in the automotive field but also in science, technology and social studies. A few, ahem, potholes stand in the way of them becoming a reality, though, from road laws and expensive prices, to logistics and managing to win over everyday motorists. But there’s one challenge that hasn’t really been talked about that much until now and may not seem like a big deal, but it is: motion sickness.

Chances are that you’ll have felt sick at some point in your life while travelling as a car, bus or train passenger and reading, using your phone or looking down for some other reason, right? It’s definitely something I still suffer from, not so much when using my phone but more so when looking up and down a lot, such as when I’m navigating for the Mrs using an old-fashioned map. Reading a book or even something flimsy like a take away menu whilst on the move in a car is a no-no for me.

Ansible Motion car sickness simulator for nausea driverless autonomous cars Carrot Insurance young new drivers 1


A study carried out a year ago by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute1 (yes, it’s a bit of a mouthful, so try UMTRI for short) for which they polled over 3,000 people from six different countries found that 37% of drivers or passengers from America reckon they’ll experience increased motion sickness when fully self-driving vehicles become a reality. In the UK, 27.8% of the people interviewed felt the same way. Indians are often considered to be hard-working and the UMTRI survey identified that 17.7% of people interviewed in India see themselves working on the move when vehicles drive themselves, compared to 6.4% in the UK and just 1% in Japan – which is a bit odd, as the Japanese are also known to be devoted to their work. In actual fact, 18.9% of Japanese respondents said they’d prefer to have a kip in a driverless car. Another survey conducted last year, this time in France2, found that 16% of the people asked said that they suffer from motion sickness sometimes, with 5% saying it’s a regular thing for them.

Based on these statistics, a clever Norwich-based company called Ansible Motion is using its driving simulator technology to help car manufacturers to produce driverless vehicles that will be less prone to making people throw up. Most video games, from driving simulators to flight sims, focus on human interactions and reactions, but the company’s ‘Drive in the Loop’ simulator also sends loads of info back to the computer and actually helps in the car design process.

Ansible Motion car sickness simulator for nausea driverless autonomous cars Carrot Insurance young new drivers 2


It’s better to test car parts and computer systems in an ultra-realistic computer simulator environment than trying them out for the first time in real life and someone getting injured or even killed as a result. Ansible Motion’s ‘Drive in the Loop’ simulator lets car companies test individual components in thousands of different scenarios using input from real human drivers, without having to build and potentially waste physical car prototypes.

The reason people sometimes feel like they’re going to puke if they’re travelling as a car passenger is usually because the images they see become out of sync with the movement they feel. For example, you may be reading a book but can see other vehicles, buildings and trees whizzing through your field of vision in a blur at the same time as the words on the printed page.

Drive in the Loop means car manufacturers can now work out the best suspension, sound-proofing and other settings to result in the smoothest ride, which is less likely to make any passengers vomit. By deliberately trying to cause motion sickness in the people driving or being driven in the simulator, they will know what adjustments need to be made to their normal cars of today and driverless cars of tomorrow. Computer-controlled cars can’t cope very well with unpredictable human behaviour, and computers can’t be made to feel nauseous, so including real guys and girls as part of the design process is an excellent idea.

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Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.