As anyone with a long commute knows, motion sickness can be a major deterrent to reading during a car ride.
Ride-hailing company Uber has an idea to address this frustrating problem, according to a patent application published this month.
And it's not about protecting the upholstery. It works with self-driving cars — potentially freeing up passengers to multitask while a computer does the driving.
According to Molly Nix, user experience design lead at Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, much of the design thinking around cars in the past has been about the power of the driver, rather than the passenger experience. That's something that Uber hopes to be a design leader in, as more and more rides are taken in self-driving cars.
"In general when we think about Uber as a product, the magic is that it gives you your time back," Nix said.
Nix couldn't discuss the specifics of the motion-sickness patent, but here's how it works: The car would use data from its self-driving "eyes" to create a "sensory stimulation system" that syncs up your eyes and ears. That could be done with controllable seats that move and vibrate with the car, bursts of air, or using a display or "light bar" within the car to create visual stimulation such as an augmented reality live stream of the surrounding environment.
Source: Patent filings
It helps because like seasickness, nausea in the car can happen when your eyes sense the environment as still, while your inner ear senses the twists and turns of the car ride, creating a sensory conflict, a professor told Scientific American. For souls with sensitive stomachs, that can mean buses and passenger seats are productivity-sapping reading-free zones.
"With the advent of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, rider attention may be focused on alternative activities, such as work, socializing, reading, writing, task-based activities (e.g., organization, bill payments, online shopping, gameplay), and the like," the patent says.
To be sure, most patents are never commercially produced or even seriously tested internally. But it's one example of a safety precaution, to give passengers to prepare for a sudden braking event or collision, the patent said.
That's important because more Americans are worried about self-driving cars than are enthusiastic, according to a survey published last month by the Pew Research Center. Nix said that as a company that's already focused on passenger experience, Uber is investing more and more resources into how to make riders more comfortable in autonomous vehicles — even with an idea like multi-tasking.