Uber is trying to cure passengers’ motion sickness with air bursts and vibrating seats

Down with the sickness

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When self-driving cars rule the roads, you’re going to get very bored travelling long distances solo. With no driver to pester, and only so many times you can play “punch buggy” with yourself before getting a dead arm, you’re going to want something to distract you before your four-wheeled servant drops you off at your destination.

But as anyone who has tried reading on a long journey will tell you, that comes with its own problem: you end up feeling queasy. You might feel equally queasy when I tell you that Uber’s possible solution to this involves vibrating chairs, but stay with me because it’s actually quite a clever idea on patent paper.

First a word on what causes motion sickness: this occurs when what you see doesn’t match up with what you’re feeling. In other words, if you’re bumping all over the place, but your eyes are staying focused on some text, your body is not going to be happy.

Uber’s answer is to use motion and sensations to trick the brain. Specifically designed for Uber’s fleet of autonomous cars, the vehicles would use data from the cameras outside the vehicle to create a “sensory simulation system” made up of vibrating seats that move with the motions of the car, bursts of air and a light bar. This augmented environment would, theoretically, make your brain believe you’re not moving when you are, leaving you to read to your heart’s content.

“With the advent of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, rider attention may be focused on alternative activities, such as work, socialising, reading, writing, task-based activities (e.g., organisation, bill payments, online shopping, gameplay), and the like,” the patent reads. Somehow, throwing “bill payments” into the mix makes the innovation sound far less exciting than it is, but there we are. If the mood takes you, you could make a killer spreadsheet on the go, too.

It’s a neat idea, but take it with a pinch of salt. Most patents are filed and then sat on. Very few end up seeing the light of day, but it’s good that people are thinking about this: driverless cars are going to be a lot less useful if you spend all that time you clawed back throwing up everywhere. And the last thing Uber wants is to reallocate all the money saved on drivers into a cleaner kitty.

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