As we ready for road-trip season, Ford is offering research into the science of motion sickness, something that afflicts most of the family (two in three, at some time or other in their motoring lives), including the family goldfish.
“Car sickness can turn an eagerly awaited family trip into a nightmare, with mum and dad nervously looking over their shoulders and fearing the worse” said Eike Schmidt, research engineer at the Ford Research and Innovation Center, in Aachen, Germany. “Comfort is a huge focus for the way we design the cars of the future – and we want to do everything we can to reduce car sickness.”
Let’s make a list of all the family members who don’t get car-sick … babies. That’s it. The reason is that they haven’t learned to walk yet and therefore are missing one of the key factors that contribute to motion sickness.
The other factors are perception (movement the brain interprets based on feedback from the brain and internal organs) and vehicle movement (changes in direction or speed). That’s why drivers don’t get car-sick — because they should be constantly scanning the vehicle’s surroundings for potential dangers, and they can anticipate the changes in physical motion of the vehicles, such as coming off the throttle, changing manual gears, and even aggressive driving, such as high-speed cornering.
Children are the worst hit, probably because they have their heads down looking at mobile screens or on-board display screens in the back of seats. New research indicates that the average passenger falls ill just 10 minutes into staring at a display screen in the car.
“For many drivers who think their child has a problem with car sickness it might simply be that their child has a problem with their driving,” said Prof. Dr. Jelte Bos, from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Perceptual and Cognitive Systems, Soesterberg. He also holds a chair in motion perception at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and has worked on a device that shows when behaviour behind the wheel could affect sickness-prone passengers. “Car sickness is a complex problem. It is a natural reaction to an unnatural stimulus that cannot be cured. But we can look to alleviate the symptoms. Adopting a smoother driving style goes a long way towards reducing feelings of nausea.”
Ford is researching ways to address those symptoms, with things like mounting display screens for rear-seat entertainment systems higher in the vehicle. This would allow peripheral vision to catch the motion of the surroundings and reduce incidences of motion sickness.
The company is also looking at ways to communicate the physical dynamics of the moving vehicle to passengers, such as warning passengers that they should get their heads up because of twisty roads or humped bridges.
In the meantime, researchers advise people to move to the centre position on rear seats (where they can see the road ahead), snack on fizzy drinks or eat ginger snaps (ginger helps soothe the stomach) drivers to smoothen out their driving styles, run the air conditioning to help circulate air in the cabin, and engage in some easy distractions such as playing road games or just participate in some car-pool karaoke.