When I was a kid, I used to get really bad motion sickness if I was reading while riding in a car. Now? I don’t get it anymore.

But, that could change once self-driving vehicles become the norm.

A pair of researchers from the University of Michigan asked 3,200 adults in the U.S., India, China, Japan, Great Britain and Australia what they would do in a self-driving vehicle.

More than a third of Americans said they would read, text ,watch movies or TV, play games or work. All of these increase the chances of you getting motion sickness. In India, that number jumped to more than 50%. 40% of Chinese people and 30% of Japanese, Great Britain and Australian people said they would engage in these activities.

Anywhere between 6% and 12% of people riding in self-driving vehicles would experience motion sickness at some point.

google driverless car

What would cause people to experience motion sickness in self-driving cars?

One of the researchers, Michael Sivak, explains, “Motion sickness is expected to be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles,” Sivak said. “The reason is that the three main factors contributing to motion sickness—conflict between vestibular (balance) and visual inputs, inability to anticipate the direction of motion and lack of control over the direction of motion—are elevated in self-driving vehicles.”

Sivak and his colleague, Brandon Schoettle, research found that more than 60% of Americans would watch the road, talk on the phone or sleep while riding. About the same percentage is seen in China. It’s about 70% in Japan, Great Britain and Australia.

60%? Really? That seems a bit generous. Hell, I doubt 60% of people driving today watch the road the entire time.

Speaking of motion sickness, it’s one of VR’s biggest challenges as well.

I picked up an Oculus DK2 a few months ago. It’s an awesome piece of tech, but my mind was not agreeing with the Unreal Engine rollercoaster demo. Your mind thinks you’re going through a gut twisting loop. It’s a really weird feeling.

Sivak and Schoettle have a couple of ideas that could help decrease chances of motion sickness.

Maximize the visual field with large, transparent windows; mount transparent video and work displays that require passengers to face forward; and eliminate swivel seats, restrict head motion and install fully reclining seats.


Self-driving cars are at least five years away from being released to the general public.

Google is aiming for its self-driving car technology to be possibly released on the market between 2017-2020.

The technology is far out-pacing the laws. Before self-driving cars can become a reality, new laws will need to be written and passed. In today’s political climate? 2020 is incredibly optimistic for self-driving cars to be available to the public.

When I’m not playing Rocket League (best game ever), you can find me writing about all things games, space and more. You can reach me at alex@newsledge.com

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