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Car sickness exercises help to alleviate worst symptoms

People who suffer from car or motion sickness could alleviate their worst symptoms with new visuospatial training exercises developed by researchers at the University of Warwick.

The researchers found that their new tool helped to reduce motion sickness in participants by over 50 per cent and it was effective in both a driving simulator and on-road experimentation.

Around a third of people are highly susceptible to motion sickness, which typically occurs during travel in cars and boats but can also affect people when using virtual reality headsets or when riding in a travel simulator.

With the concept of autonomous vehicles moving closer to our roads, the need to reduce motion sickness is more apparent than ever. It is expected that due to potential future vehicle designs and people’s desire to engage in non-driving related tasks during their journey, such as reading or watching films, motion sickness will be a significant factor for vehicle occupants.

It has even been predicted that if it proves possible to reduce motion sickness to the extent that people could read and work in future cars without ill effect, this productivity boost could be worth as much as $508bn per year, according to analysts Morgan Stanley.

Participants in the study were placed in both a driving simulator trial and an on-road trial where they were driven around as passengers, imitating what it would be like to travel in an autonomous vehicle.

Baseline motion sickness was first measured during their initial ride, using a variety of pre-validated questionnaires, to report severity of the symptoms.

A ‘fast-motion sickness scale’, was also used to capture ‘real-time’ symptoms as participants were asked to rate their sickness every minute on a scale of 0-20, considering nausea, discomfort and stomach problems.

After their first run, participants completed various pen-and-paper visuospatial training tasks, for 15 minutes, once per day, for two weeks. These included exercises such as looking at a pattern of boxes and having to identify which image out of three was the original just rotated; paper-folding tasks, and understanding spatial patterns.

After the training period, participants took part in another motion-sickness assessment. It was recorded that motion sickness reduced by 51 per cent in the driving simulator and by 58 per cent in the on-road trial.

Researcher Dr Joseph Smyth said: “Being able to reduce an individual’s personal susceptibility to motion sickness using simple ‘brain-training style’ tasks is a massive step-forward in the development of future transport systems, including autonomous vehicles.

“Motion sickness has, for a long time, been a significant limitation to many people's transport options and this research has shown a new method for how we can address this.

“I hope that in the future we can optimise the training into a short, highly impactful method. Imagine if when someone is waiting for a test-drive in a new autonomous vehicle, they could sit in the showroom and do some ‘brain-training puzzles’ on a tablet before going out in the car, therefore reducing their risk of sickness.

“It’s also very likely this method can be used in other domains such as sea-sickness for navy staff or cruise passengers. We are particularly excited about applying this new finding to Virtual Reality headset use.”

Pete Bennett, from Jaguar Land Rover, commented: “Making our future autonomous vehicles as user-friendly as possible is key and motion sickness is something we knew we needed to research, as so many people experience it even now as a passenger.”

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