Uber has patented a technology designed to counter the motion sickness encountered by many passengers, which is likely to be used in its future fleet of self-driving vehicles.
The patent is based around a sensory simulation system to trick the brain out of feeling the nausea some people experience when reading in a moving car, according to information made public by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The system uses sensors to alter the environment of the back seat in a driverless car, vibrating the seats and blasting air to help combat sickness.
Many people experience sickness in vehicles when they are passengers, but not while they are driving themselves. This poses a specific barrier to the widespread adoption of driverless cars, if a significant proportion of the world’s passengers are likely to feel ill when being driven around by a machine.
Riders feel sick when their vestibular system, which senses movement, is out of sync with what their eyes are seeing.
“With the advent of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, rider attention may be focused on alternative activities, such as work, socialising, reading, writing, task-based activities (e.g., organisation, bill payments, online shopping, gameplay), and the like,” the patent outlined.
While just proposals at this stage, Uber’s patent could represent an ambitious first step to minimising the issue.
An interior light bar displaying coloured light once the car completes a manoeuvre, such as braking, acceleration or change of direction, could also help, it suggests.
Similarly, customised air flow and short blasts aimed at the rider’s head, torso, arms, legs and feet during manoeuvres can train the rider’s sensory responses to prevent motion sickness, also known as kinetosis.
Seats could be equipped to generate haptic feedback, the same technology recent iPhones feature to provide the sensation of pressing down into an immovable surface. This feedback could combine with movement generated by motors inside the seat to match the movement of the car, smoothing the disconnect between what the passenger is seeing and the movement they’re experiencing.
The car’s control system could feature a route planner, generating sensory output and detecting potential obstacles like potholes and debris which could potentially interfere.
Uber has struck a deal with Swedish car maker Volvo to produce 24,000 of its flagship XC90 SUVs cars, which it plans to integrate with its own self-driving software to created an autonomous fleet.
Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group is in charge of developing the driverless system, which will be incorporated into the vehicles between 2019 and 2021, Volvo confirmed earlier this week.
The ride-hailing app is currently in a legal dispute with Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, which alleges Uber’s driverless technology is based on designs stolen from Waymo by a former employee.
WHAT IS MOTION SICKNESS?
Motion sickness, or kinetosis, refers to the disconnect between what the eye perceives and what your inner-ear, which deals with balance, motion and spatial awareness, detects. The vestibular system consists of three semicircular canals, capable of detecting rotational head movement, and utricle and saccule sacs, which sense gravity and linear movement.
In a car, for example, your eyes may tell you you’re whizzing along at 60mph, but your inner-ear knows you’re sitting still. This is what causes some people to feel dizzy and nauseous.
While anyone can technically suffer from motion sickness, some people are more susceptible than others: particularly pregnant and menstruating women and small children. Some people fill ill for the entire time they’re in a situation, such as on a boat at sea, while others can adjust to new situations relatively quickly. Fresh air and fixating on a fixed point can help sufferers to feel better.