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Motion Sickness More Likely In Self-Driving Cars? One Study Says Yes

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/9/2015 Karla Sanchez

While companies like Audi, Google, Volvo, Toyota, Delphi, and others have been researching the technology behind self-driving cars, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is investigating one of the potential side effects that may come with our autonomous future. Researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle conducted a study on the things people would do in self-driving cars instead of driving (since the car would take care of that), where they found that occupants are more likely to experience motion sickness than in conventional cars.

Research

The study points out three main contributing factors to motion sickness: conflict between vestibular and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion, and lack of control over the direction of motion. All three of these factors may be elevated in self-driving vehicles, though the frequency and severity all depend on the activity one is doing inside a self-driving vehicle. Researchers narrowed down these activities by conducting a survey on a total of 3255 people, with 501 in the U.S.; 610 in China; 527 in India; 585 in Japan; 527 in the U.K.; and 505 in Australia. MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

The survey revealed that people in the U.S. would spend their time watching the road (46.1 percent), reading (14 percent), texting or talking on the phone (12.7 percent), sleeping (8.8 percent), watching TV or movies (7.8 percent), working (6.2 percent), playing games (2.6 percent), or doing other activities (1.8 percent). Most of these activities, especially reading or watching a movie, were expected to have a negative effect on all three of the critical factors. The effects weren't as severe when watching the road or sleeping. In fact, the researchers didn’t even include those two activities in calculating how many people would feel ill since they had a positive effect on motion sickness.

A closer look at the results reveals that 37 percent of adults in the U.S. would engage in these types of activities that are known to worsen motion sickness. Among that group, 6-10 percent would be expected to often, usually, or always experience some level of motion sickness. Meanwhile, 6-12 percent of American adults would be expected to experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some time.

Motion Sickness More Likely In Self-Driving Cars? One Study Says Yes

In India, 52.7 percent of people were more likely to participate in activities that could cause motion sickness. Of that number, 8-14 percent would be expected to often, usually, or always experience some level of motion sickness, while 8-17 percent would be expected to experience moderate or severe motion sickness at some time. China was also high up there, with 40.3 percent of people likely to participate in these types of activities. Japan had the lowest at 25.9 percent.

Other interesting findings include the percentage of people who wouldn’t even ride in a self-driving car. In the U.S., 23 percent of respondents wouldn’t set foot in one of these cars. The corresponding percentages in the other countries were 3 percent in China; 8 percent in India; 21 percent in Australia; 23 percent in the U.K.; and 33 percent in Japan.

It’s important to note this study wasn’t done with hands-on research. It takes into account the activities people said they would do in self-driving cars and how those activities could have an effect on motion sickness. It's also worth noting that, for now, autonomous vehicle operators can't simply fall asleep behind the wheel. As our own testing director Kim Reynolds found out when he took the test for his autonomous driver's license, you need to be able to resume control of the vehicle at a moment's notice if things go haywire. In California at least, autonomous vehicle operators will be expected to be alert and will be legally responsible for an accident.

Read the full study here.

Source: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

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