Naked Science Forum

General Science => General Science => Topic started by: katieHaylor on 17/08/2017 09:35:23

Title: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: katieHaylor on 17/08/2017 09:35:23
Ian says:

Firstly can I thank The Naked Scientists for a great podcast (https://www.thenakedscientists.com/podcasts), always interesting and never dull!

I've recently listened to a number of different views on self driving cars and the thing that I never hear is what they are going to do about those affected with travel sickness and what, if any, research may be going on. As a sufferer myself, who seems to only be able to travel in cars if I am driving, they sound like they would be horrible for me and although I like the idea, the practicalities of having to take travel pills each time means that I doubt if I would ever "choose" to use one.

I would like to know what research is going into travel sickness and what, if any, adaptions may be going into self drive cars to relieve the symptoms.


Can you help?
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: Colin2B on 17/08/2017 17:03:48
This is a very interesting question.
There is no doubt that being in control of a vehicle or even having a task, eg being a lookout on a boat, helps reduce the effect. What clearly makes it worse is losing contact with a reference eg horizon and I suspect people in driverless vehicles will be tempted to read or watch videos - not good.
The one thing that seems to work consistently on a boat is to get into a bunk and close your eyes. Would that be possible in a driverless car or would the nominated driver have to be awake and alert to any potential problems?

Surprisingly a lot of research in to travel sickness is funded by developers of fairground rides who want riders to get maximum thrills, but not vomit all over the seats and other riders. This has given interesting information on frequency and direction of movement and hopefully this could be returned into vehicle design, not only suspension but also the driving style of the vehicle.
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: chris on 17/08/2017 18:13:47
Indeed, fascinating point that I'd never considered. Thanks for raising it.

One thing that might be worth considering is what aspect of the travel actually contributes to the travel sickness. Because part of it might be the stop-start, lurching nature of modern car travel, where we speed away from one set of lights only to do a near emergency stop 50 yards further down the road when someone pulls out in front of us, or the lights suddenly change to red, or a speed-bump looms into sight and we have to slow to a crawl before bumping over that before accelerating away again. All of this probably plays havoc with the vestibular system.

If we get driverless / automated transport right, then a lot of this chaotic driving disappears, because the vehicles will convoy and stop / start en-mass or seamlessly flow past one another. Of course we'll have to get those pesky human driver off the road first, but this improved travelling experience will be more akin to train travel. And if you are okay on a train then maybe you'd be okay inside a car operating a similar way?
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: alancalverd on 18/08/2017 07:19:58
Nobody enjoys stop/start driving, but for as long as cyclists, pedestrians, children, animals and merging traffic have diplomatic immunity from the rules of the road, the driverless car will have to do pretty much the same as a human driver, i.e. give way to everything else, so in real traffic it will become a mobile vomitorium.

So far, I've only seen these machines perform on motorways and the like, with clear lane markings and disciplined traffic. Pretty much like flying on autopilot, except there is even less stimulus to keep the driver awake. Drowsiness is associated with motion sickness, so anyone prone to it will probably be asleep within a few minutes of starting a familiar journey.

There will be some interesting legal problems. Perhaps we could make a start by imprisoning any cyclist who uses the main carriageway or ignores a road sign.
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: Bored chemist on 18/08/2017 10:31:34
Perhaps we could make a start by imprisoning any cyclist who uses the main carriageway
OK, since, most roads have no cycle paths, so where do you suggest they go?
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: alancalverd on 18/08/2017 15:17:09
.....who uses the main carriageway on a road with a marked cycle path.
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: chris on 19/08/2017 07:41:26
Let's not get too off-topic here; we've not yet really considered why it is that some people throw up when they are not driving. So what is it about the mere fact of being a passenger rather than the driver that makes people motion sick?
Title: Re: Will driverless cars trigger a plague of travel sickness?
Post by: alancalverd on 19/08/2017 09:58:16
We are used to making voluntary movements, either gross motion from A to B, or subtle corrections to keep our head over our pelvis when walking, or maintain whatever posture is required. The process is either conscious or semiautonomic, with the signal from a sensor (eyes, vestibular canals, baroreceptors...even auditory) being processed through the brain to direct the muscles.

Driving is all about using hands and feet through the vehicle controls to achieve both the gross motion from A to B and the fine corrections to avoid collisions. Essentially the same process but with an extended end effector. A confident, experienced driver "wears" the car like an overcoat, and the responses, including maintaining his own postural balance, become autonomic.

Problem for the passenger is that he is receiving  some of the inputs but has no output mechanism or control over the driver's responses, and particularly in the rear seat, may not have the most important input - the view ahead. So the brain is having to do a lot of conscious processing, some milliseconds after the driver's autonomic response has altered the input, and generally getting it wrong.

So far, I think, noncontentious. Now comes the inversion of experience and evolution

We have evolved to vomit toxins. The body recognises toxins because the muscles and other stuff don't respond as expected to brain commands. Feedback doesn't match command? Assume neural system compromised: try vomiting.(stomach = power supply, so switch off and reboot!) So sitting in the back of a car being driven con brio in traffic, the brain recognises what appears to be a neural malfunction and reboots the power supply.

Trains jiggle and rattle but don't accelerate, decelerate or turn rapidly. We can accommodate small jiggles which are way beyond our response bandwidth, and large sweeping turns that may require just a small adjustment of balance, but the motion of small boats and aeroplanes involves lots of unpredictable motion in three dimensions, within the frequency range of normal human movement (walking, lifting...) and the effort of compensation is way beyond the capability of the untrained passenger, whilst the pilot, having all the necessary inputs, is making the autonomic corrections to keep the seat of his pants in the right place. 

All a bit hypothetical, but the fact that a simple chemical like ginger can restore order suggests that the stomach can respond with an "override - no problem here", and stuff like Advil can interfere with the neural system to the point that the passenger goes to sleep.