Driven to sickness
The age of autonomous vehicles will render the role of the driver obsolete. For sufferers of motion sickness, not being in control of the vehicle could have serious consequences.
Beyond all of the investigative work being undertaken into autonomous vehicles themselves, there is a world dedicated to external factors that will become very relevant in the age of driverless cars. Countless hours are being spent at universities, research institutes, and automotive manufacturers and suppliers into investigating how the infrastructure will change, but there is also work being done to support the wellbeing of passengers, including the driver.
UK-based Ansible Motion has been involved in driver-in-the-loop (DIL) analysis for many years, predominantly though its simulator work.
“With the equipment that we’ve developed, we have been able to effectively undertake highly dynamic simulations with drivers involved,” said Kia Cammaerts, Technical Director of Ansible Motion, which specializes in DIL simulators for vehicle development. The technology is in great demand with automotive manufacturers, which currently accounts for 60% of the company’s business (the remainder mostly being motorsport). Ansible Motion works with the likes of Ford and Honda on their race car work and “two of the big three American OEMs and two of the top three Japanese OEMs,” said Cammaerts, carefully.
He is quick to point out that Ansible Motion doesn’t develop vehicles or vehicle dynamics, but merely works with those who do: “The motion sickness relates to the yaw rates and the acceleration, braking, and cornering profiles. We want to know if the car can make you more comfortable if it is observing you. And, if it notices that you are uncomfortable, what can it do?”
Cammaerts admitted that much of the work so far with CAVs (connected autonomous vehicles) has been focused on accident avoidance and safety, but adds that the quality of the “driving” experience will come into play soon. “As soon as Tier 1s can supply sensor clusters and autonomous driving algorithms in boxes—to mainly benefit prospective OEMs in developing markets—manufacturers will have to have something in the pipeline for the quality of this experience,” said Cammaerts.
For the reduction of motion sickness itself, from a passenger point of view, Cammaerts suggests changing the interior architecture. Based on the fact that a front windshield will no longer be needed, he argues, what about a large screen that could take the form of a large tablet? “The car of the future doesn’t have to have the same cabin architecture and will be very different if it is used as a working environment.”
In preparation for autonomous vehicles, experiences from taxi environments have been examined and researchers are still discovering new phenomena. Cammaerts points to some design-of-experiments challenges in formulating studies of motion sickness strategies in DILs for people who have bad motion sickness in cars. The Centre for Mobility and Transport at Coventry University is one of the driving forces in this area and has recently used Ansible’s equipment for analysis.
“There were oddities, such as the time we conducted a sway test,” said Cammaerts, explaining that subjects were blindfolded, given earplugs, and asked to stay in the simulator until they felt sick. “They were asked to describe the side-to-side motion, but many said it was in a figure eight or a vertical arc movement.”
The fact that different people see identical movements very differently is a problem because it was proof that people experience motion sickness in an autonomous vehicle very differently from each other.
“We know that what you see has a big effect on how you feel in a car,” said Cammaerts, suggesting this has to be a consideration in future vehicle design. In a working environment—or if you are turning around to colleagues in the back—of a vehicle, you no longer have full information or sight of the horizon to concentrate on, he maintains.
“There are lots of things the car can do, because it has a better understanding of the situation than a human does,” he said. “So could there be haptic feedback [that] the seats can give you to pre-warn, or can the screen start drawing something that would indicate a trajectory change that is ahead? A lot of nausea comes from a mismatch between expectation and reality, so if you can precondition your expectation so that the mismatch between that, and the reality that comes, is minimized, can you minimize the onset of nausea?”
Cammaerts says the goal is to maximize useful time in the cabin and improve the time for passengers. If they are merely looking out the window, it is boring—he argues—and they would be better off driving. Whoever the customer, he believes that traditional auto manufacturers will have challenges of their own when it comes to getting the dynamics right in light of trying to prevent motion sickness.
“Customers might buy one automotive brand instead of another because they think it is safer or a more proven company,” he said. “But the vehicle will be looking at you to see how comfortable you seem. If your elderly relative wants to be driven quicker, it might adjust its profile for them. Or if you are very timid, it might smooth the profile.”
Cammaerts predicts that many prestige European manufacturers may be nervous of these developments because they will “have to find ways of presenting their brand values through these filters.”