UMTRI researchers patent a system that could prevent motion sickness in AVs


Researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) have received a patent on a universal motion sickness countermeasure system that could help reduce feelings of nausea for passengers traveling in self-driving vehicles.

One of the anticipated advantages of the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is the opportunity for drivers to be more productive while traveling. But those that suffer from motion sickness will not be able to take advantage of the free time afforded by them not having to control the vehicle.

The main cause of motion sickness is a conflict between the information provided by the body’s vestibular system, the labyrinth of the inner ear that provides a sense of balance and spatial orientation, and visual inputs from the ocular system, which occur when the driver is not watching the road while in a moving vehicle.

The U-M researchers have received a patent on a universal motion sickness countermeasure system that they have developed to provide light stimuli in the visual periphery of the passenger to mimic what the rider might see outside.

The new system helps eliminate the conflict between the body’s in-built ‘gyroscopic’ vestibular and visual inputs that can provide contradictory information to the brain, resulting in feelings of nausea that can lead to sickness. The U-M patent covers both wearable and vehicle-based embodiments of the system. The inventors, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute, are now working with the university’s Tech Transfer department to commercialize their system.

“About half of adults get motion sick at times when reading a book in a moving vehicle. This is more important with the introduction of autonomous vehicles,” explained research professor Sivak. “In autonomous cars, everyone will be a passenger. So, you will have a larger potential pool of sick people. The protection that drivers have received from driving won’t be there anymore. The productivity gains that the proponents of self-driving vehicles are talking about may not happen if we don’t address the motion sickness problem.”

Keith Hughes, assistant director of transportation commercialization at U-M Tech Transfer, said, “Now that the patent has been issued, we will contact various suppliers and auto makers to commercialize the U-M technology. As we move toward autonomous vehicles, the interiors could also have an unusual configuration; it could be couches in a vehicle, or you might be sitting backwards or sideways. Providing a solution to motion sickness will be necessary.”

Photo credits: Mercedes-Benz AV concept interiors.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).