Queasy does it! Simulator throws up answer to car-sickness

LONDON, England – More and more people are using in-car video screens and tablets and their number will grow as more and more autonomous (self-driving) cars reach the roads – and the old problem of car sickness looks likely to come back.

Why? Because instead of concentrating on the driving or, in the case of passengers the passing scene, eyes will be on fixed-focus while other senses will tell the brain the host body is moving. Seems nobody had thought of that so now engineers are turning to simulation technology to, er, throw up the answers.

Ansible Motion’s technical liaison guy Phil Morse explained to The Corner that as self-driving cars become the the norm human eyes will no longer be “chained to the road ahead”. “We’re going to have much more spare time,” he said. “This is brilliant news – we’ll have more time to read, work or play games on our smart phones instead.

“The one downside,” he added, “could be motion sickness.”

AUTOMAKERS ALREADY ON IT

It’s already a problem for many people so when every vehicle occupant is merely a passenger, Morse believes, it seems inevitable that the affliction will get worse. “In fact experts are already predicting that six to 12% of Americans will experience nausea in an autonomous vehicle.”

So, automakers are already working on how to mitigate motion sickness – Ansible Motion has been asked to hold down the job through simulator technology – though these machines will differ from those that power car-race games or train fighter pilots.

Morse’s message adds: “This simulator, called ‘Driver in the Loop”, is dynamics-class: it doesn’t measure only human reactions, as do other driving or flight simulators. Thanks to sophisticated engineering it can be used to, virtually, operate on prototype vehicles and car components.”

It’s all part of a wider programme…

THOUSANDS OF DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

Autonomous cars carry a complex array of sensors and systems which need to play nicely with each other. For example: the array of collision sensors and detection algorithms which need “computational authority” to do what they’re made to do. As Morse said: “It’s no good if an object is detected but you’re already wrapped around it. Rather than have these test scenarios play out for the first time in the real world it is much safer to figure them out in a laboratory.”

The value of such driving simulators is their ability to test individual components in thousands of different situations with a human at the wheel but without actually building the car.

“In fact,” Morse said, “without simulators it may soon be impossible to design a car without utterly enormous expense.”

This is where simulator technology can be put to work on motion sickness, a malady caused by images from our eyes becoming out of sync with the movement we feel. It’s why, say, reading a book or watching a video while a car passenger can make us queasy… there’s a disconnect between what we’re seeing and feeling while trees zip by in our peripheral vision.

“It can also happen when playing a virtual-reality game.”

MOTION SICKNESS MITIGATED

Ansible Motion’s driving simulator allows designers to test components and conditions virtually – changing things such as the shape of the windows, road vibration, noise levels and the car’s suspension. By swopping  around these components virtually designers can see which combination gives the smoothest ride.

“This means that, when the first physical prototypes are created, they will mitigate motion sickness.”

The method inserts a layer of controllable sensory content for motion, vision and haptic feedback. Modifying this simulation “layer” is a way of studying motion sickness to explore humans’ sensitivities while engaged in various tasks in a car.

PRE-TESTING ‘EVEN MORE CRUCIAL’

Engineers can induce nausea by adjusting the simulator’s settings to see how they affect car occupants while they’re absorbed in reading or other tasks.

The future, then, could be significantly less nauseating; a good example of the power of a dynamics-class simulator. Ansible Motion is ahead of the curve in this respect as the need for pre-testing components in simulators is going to become ever more crucial.

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