We are making fast progress in modern technology. The next big step could be autonomous vehicles. Several auto companies are designing and testing self-driving vehicles in anticipation of what seems to be an eminent opening of that market. Just like all new technologies, there may be inherent problems with autonomous cars that auto makers will need to consider. While electric vehicles were found to be dangerous to pedestrians, children and bicyclists due to the silent ride, motion sickness may be the first defect in self-driving vehicles. Read more about the dangers of electric vehicles here.
Motion Sickness In Vehicles
A portion of the population is prone to motion sickness, particularly while performing certain activities in a moving vehicle. This can occur during car rides, airplane flights, bus tours and train rides. Reading, texting and other activities that divert a rider’s attention from the surroundings can throw the natural bodily processes into disarray. Human spatial cognizance is related to our ability to balance, or vestibular information.
We perceive the environment through sensory processes that define our position in Space-Time, much like a GPS defines our position mechanically. When the information we perceive is at odds with our biological GPS, we often experience vertigo or motion sickness. Our biological GPS is controlled by sensory input processed in our inner ear in conjunction with sensory input from touch, sight and sound.
Why Motion Sickness Is Likely
The utricle and saccule in the inner ear detect gravity, while fluid-filled semi-circular canals detect motion and rotation. These biological tools continue to function while riding in a vehicle, but become confused when the natural motions they perceive are not justified by the input from our outward senses. While the eyes see still type on the page or on a screen, our motion sensors are telling the brain that we are moving. This confusion results in motion sickness and vertigo.
In an autonomous vehicle, we will not be directly controlling our movements. Many will not be directly monitoring their movements either. This is a formula for nausea. A percentage of people who attempt to ride in self-driving automobiles while performing other tasks will be subject to motion sickness.
Attempts To Solve Motion Sickness
Auto manufacturers are probably aware of this possibility. Many have concentrated their efforts toward making their designs ergonomic and esthetically pleasing, but the problems with likely vertigo, nausea and motion sickness are more complicated. Our biological GPS works regardless of the mechanical design of the vehicle. Motion without input or in defiance of natural positioning will always make some people sick.
Companies are experimenting with darkly tinted windows and other sensory deprivation equipment, but the fact remains that unsolicited movement causes minor or severe incongruity. Our bodies are made to work as a team of sensory inputs. When some do not agree, we experience confusion and sickness. Some companies are experimenting with rear-facing seats, but still the human balance system is confused by motion we do not control.
At this time, no solution to these problems has been found. People who experience motion sickness on airplanes often take Dramamine before flying (read more about dramamine here for side effects and dosages). Astronauts and pilots can experience this in Space or while flying, and are diligently tested with high-gravity machines before they are allowed to leave the ground.
The problem is an evolutionary, biological dilemma involving the very balance systems that allow us to walk upright and perform complex movements. Suppressing these systems or changing the way in which our sensory inputs interact would render us helpless. If and when self-driving cars become available on the market, drivers will need to be responsible for their own safety in regards to motion sickness.