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Autonomous driving could make you sick

Study suggests motion sickness could be major problem

Published: April 13, 2015, 12:05 AM
Updated: April 15, 2015, 2:04 PM

Mercedes-Benz S500 Inteligent Drive - Mercedes-Benz S500 Inteligent Drive

Pretty well everybody is agreeing that autonomous vehicles are part of the future of driving. What there is no consensus about, though, is what problems have still to be overcome and how.

The technology is pretty well ingrained now, with many current production models already having the basics in place — lane-keep assist to keep vehicles within road boundaries, adaptive cruise control to maintain distance between vehicles, collision avoidance with automatic braking to bring a vehicle to a full stop when needed and if the driver does not take braking action, and even self-steering in applications such as self-parking.

And even though the majority agrees that autonomous driving is safer than having human interference, insurance is a big hurdle that will probably never completely go away, with the big question being who’s in control of the vehicle when the car is controlling itself?

“How should a self-driving vehicle react in an impending accident? What are the consequences with respect to liability and insurance? These are just some of the questions we need to find answers to through social discourse,” said Dr. Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Integrity and Legal Affairs, in announcing that Daimler will bring together experts for a Fall 2015 conference on “Autonomous Driving, Law and Ethics.”

But there are also health issues.

A recent study out of the University of Michigan indicates that motion sickness may become a big problem in autonomous driving mode, afflicting a high number of drivers who may now be driving because they can’t stomach being a passenger in a vehicle.

Most afflicted with car sickness can overcome it by driving because they are in control of the vehicle’s motions, particularly the smoothness between acceleration and braking. In autonomous vehicle, not only is the driver more of a passenger not as easily able to anticipate those changes in motion, but those motions themselves may be exaggerated as the vehicle adapts to changes in speed of, and distance to, the vehicle ahead of it.

“By switching from driver to passenger, by definition, one gives up control over the direction of motion, and there are no remedies for this,” report Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, authors of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study.

Another factor is the difference between what is being seen and what is being felt, that’s why many people feel motion sickness when they are trying to read as the vehicle is moving.

Further, the medication that helps people deal with motion sickness may make the taker drowsy, which is naturally a no-no when it comes to operating motorized machinery.

The study suggests that being able to lie down flat may be an easy solution to most cases of motion sickness, as well as keeping occupants’ vision focussed straight ahead (which would mean a stop to the recent development of having autonomous concepts’ seats swivel to face the rear).