Can VR cure motion sickness? Source: Shutterstock

VR to make autonomous rides safer, more entertaining

WOULD you pick up a virtual reality headset when you’re on your way to work? You wouldn’t mind, would you? That’s Uber’s guess as well.

The ride-hailing company that’s seeing the future come quickly is preparing to “help” riders beat motion sickness and boredom with virtual reality (VR) technology – while still maintaining “situational awareness”.

According to patents filed by the company, VR headsets offer unique and interesting experiences but when used in a changing environment – such as a moving vehicle – can impair the experience.

However, with help from the vehicle’s sensors, applications on the VR headsets can take measures to reduce the impact of speed breakers, potholes, and other stimuli.

Further, the car’s cameras can send live video feeds to the VR devices inside the vehicle to “render improved views of the environment around the autonomous vehicle and of landmarks in a city”.

VR Uber Illustration

A representative image of the technology from the US patent application | Source: US Patent Application # US2018/0040163A1

One of the most interesting points the application makes is as follows:

“Most people travel the same routes at the same time of the day over and over again and are interested in using their travel time for something other than looking at whatever is currently visible out of the vehicle’s windows.

“In an autonomous vehicle that can navigate its route without human intervention, any rider in the vehicle can wear a head-mounted display or other device for entertainment, communication, touring, gaming, news, advertising, and enhanced views of the local area around the rider or other local areas compatible with the vehicle’s physical motion.

“However, bumps in the road, turns, and other forces on the rider can be distracting and cause motion sickness for a rider wearing a headset.”

Uber’s application then goes on to suggest how its motion prediction system can use route data from the current location to the destination to estimate the future motion trajectory.

Source: Shutterstock

It then outlines how route information can be incorporated into the applications by the developers to minimize negative impacts of the external stimuli on the user – including helping avoid motion sickness.

Finally, the applicants recognize that wearing head-gear in a moving vehicle might obstruct users from ‘staying aware’ of the movement of co-passengers.

Hence, the solution proposes to use internal sensors within the vehicle to help riders maintain situational awareness while being immersed in a VR experience of their choice.

Riders, therefore will be able to avoid colliding with other passengers or note when a co-passenger is trying to access their personal belongings.

Among other features, Uber’s patent applications suggest using the vehicle’s onboard computing power and graphics to turbocharge the VR experience and providing tourist information and other content to riders interested in learning more about cities they visit.