Amid the plethora of challenges that face the acceptance of the coming world of autonomous vehicles (AVs), one is distinctly human: motion sickness. The realization that this physiological “weakness” could represent a very significant hurdle to overcome at the higher SAE Levels of autonomy is now concentrating the minds of neurotechnologists around the world.
At ZF in Germany, research resources are being collated to find a solution to a problem that could arise from AV cabins having seat layouts that face multiple direction, such as in the concept Panasonic AV cabin (top). Such layouts will permit enjoying meals, reading books, watching a film or create face-to-face mobile conference rooms. One of ZF’s main research targets is to develop an automatic system that spots motion sickness symptoms and delivers a preventive driving style via a store of sensor supplied information.
Florian Dauth, a senior member of ZF’s Advanced Engineering Human Centered Vehicle team said, “We are facing a huge issue regarding motion sickness in the mobility sector.” Figures for regular vehicle occupants suffering motion sickness can be as high as 30% (mostly passengers); but Dauth stated that with higher-level AVs, 90% of occupants could be at risk of motion sickness symptoms if no solutions are found. Current ZF AV studies have shown that about 60% of participants experience “at least early symptoms of motion sickness”.
To avoid this, ZF’s research embraces neurotechnology (the interface of neuroscience and engineering), psychophysiology, artificial intelligence and driving dynamics; no mean task for Dauth and his colleagues: “Our goal is to identify individual instances of motion sickness and to devise measures that relate to the prevailing condition of the passenger.” To do so, they are working with Saarland University’s Systems Neuroscience & Neurotechnology Unit (SNNU), and the University of Applied Sciences Saarbrücken (htw saar), Germany. SNNU’s Director, Prof. Dr. Daniel J. Strauss, said: “The respective skill sets of the partners complement one another perfectly.”
Dynamics meet medicine
This type of collaboration underlines the wide span of knowledge that AV research is calling upon as it pushes the boundaries of the traditional automotive industry – dynamics meets medicine. Symptoms range from a slight sense of unease to acute motion sickness, the human body responding with a reaction that is in many ways similar to the response to poisoning, according to the collaborative teams.
ZF has a dedicated motion sickness research vehicle (left) fitted with sensors linked to systems that include cable-based measurement methods to capture high quality data. Technology is being developed to replace cables with “a contact-free camera method”. The vehicle has covered 10,000km, accruing more than 50,000 gigabytes of physiological markers applying thermographic, imagery and driving data that together form a basis for depicting AI-based algorithms as part of gaining an understanding of the motion sickness phenomenon.
The research partners’ aim is to develop an automotive compatible system that would enable the onset of motion sickness to be detected without making physical contact with a vehicle occupant, explained Dauth. An example would be a child, travelling in the rear seat of a vehicle, beginning to feel unwell. The control system of an AV would receive information to adapt the vehicle’s driving characteristics in terms of longitudinal and latitudinal acceleration as a motion sickness preventative. But if the change helped the child, would that also benefit other occupants – or even trigger symptoms in them? AV research may be moving into another phase.