Driving simulator makes people sick now to ease nausea in future autonomous cars

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Intentionally making people sick seems like a cruel by-product of technological advancement but hey, to make an omelette you've got to break a few eggs

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Cars that drive themselves are going to free up a lot of time for us to do other stuff like read, play games and become violently ill. Indeed, one drawback of this particular automated technology is that it may automate the ejection of our stomach matter, with researchers expecting more passengers will use the spare time to take up activities that increase the likelihood of motion sickness. Ansible Motion is looking to land a pre-emptive strike, with a driving simulator that makes people sick now so as to inform autonomous vehicle design that avoids upset stomachs in the future.

Many automobile passengers already experience motion sickness when reading, playing with their phone, watching a video or simply rolling down a bumpy road. In the same way that some virtual reality users feel ill when immersed in another world, the nausea is created by a conflict between what our eyes see and the motion, or lack thereof, of our bodies.

Without the tightly gripped steering wheel to keep us feeling fine, researchers expect that around 6 to 12 percent of American adults riding in autonomous vehicles will experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some point. But Ansible Motion, a UK company that has been building driving simulators since 2009, has developed a system designed to tackle this problem head on.

It calls its technology "Driver in the Loop," and it works by creating virtual prototypes of vehicles together with varying arrays of on-car components. This is critical for simulating the experience of autonomous vehicles, which are loaded up with complex arrangements of collision sensors and detection algorithms. This allows them to test out different car designs and track how they affect the wellbeing of passengers inside.

That might mean changing the shape of the windows, simulating different vibrations from varying road surfaces, adjusting sound levels or tweaking the car's virtual suspension. The team adjusts these various virtual elements of vehicle design to see which combinations best induce motion sickness, with a view to one day eliminating them in real-world vehicles.

"This can be a useful way to explore human sensitivities while people are engaged in different tasks inside a car," says Ansible Motion's Technical Liaison, Phil Morse. "And then the understanding of these sensitivities can wrap back around and inform the real vehicle design."

Intentionally making people sick seems like a cruel by-product of technological advancement but hey, to make an omelette you've got to break a few eggs, even if it's the second time that omelette has seen the light of day. And as Ansible Motion points out, the approach means that when it comes time to build physical prototypes, engineers can already have an idea of which designs are most likely to avoid motion sickness.

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