The current expectation of many people is that when they can use an autonomous car, they will be able to do something else whilst the car takes them to their destination. For many, they will work, read emails or catch up on Facebook – just as many people do on trains today. However there is a big difference between trains and cars – one of the more obvious is the size of the cabin and the ability to absorb bumps on a train.
Many people are OK to focus on a screen or book on a plane or train, however in an automobile they feel sick. A reasonable size of any country’s population suffers from motion sickness in cars if they don’t look out of the windows. I am OK when controlling the vehicle, however have felt queasy in the back of cabs due to the driver’s odour, air freshener or driving style! I’ve been in minibuses in Singapore where the air freshener was so strong, I had to sit outside for 15 minutes to recover when I got out.
Imagine hopping into an autonomous car and feeling unwell by the time you get to work, what a great start to the day. Motion sickness is when your eyes and ears send conflicting messages to your brain, for example, when a person reads a tablet, the eyes say to the brain that there is no movement, however the ears that manage the fine art of balance are saying the opposite thanks to pressure changes. Quite why the brain then tells another unrelated organ, the stomach, to empty is unknown. However it does and I well remember events in my youth where grandma’s pineapple pudding was shared again in a car!
Some researchers are already trying to figure out how to make autonomous cars puke-proof by adding in some movement into the cabin through the use of flashing LEDs that trick the eyes into sending the same message that the ears do, thus the brain thinks all is OK and doesn’t send any further messages to the stomach or other organ down below.
I wonder though whether the human brain will figure out that LEDs are just light and the movement message will not be passed on. Perhaps a better way would be to have the phone, tablet or laptop screen connected to a heads-up unit so that the occupant does see the surrounding view as well. That would provide two benefits because apart from concentrating on the content in front of them, the occupant would also see the background changing and that could be a good thing, socially as well as mentally.
Today, our electronic screens have a night mode that reduces the blue to help those addicted to them to sleep better. If the cars have more LEDs flashing away, would that not cause more issues with trying to get people to look away? Importantly, for people with some health issues, the LEDs might actually be dangerous. That is why I think a heads-up unit would be better and probably cheaper!