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Autonomous cars are on their way to becoming a reality, but many hurdles remain before the vehicles can be deployed at scale. One such obstacle is the ability to maintain a smooth and enjoyable experience for riders. ClearMotion, a nine-year-old Massachusetts-based startup, thinks it has an answer to this issue.
As recently detailed by the MIT Tech Review, the company is developing a solution called an activalve, an electro-hydraulic device that mounts on the shock absorbers of all four wheels. The device anticipates driver and road inputs in order to stop vibrations before they occur. Less than five milliseconds after the wheels begin to move, the devices work together to counter the motion, filtering out the vibrations that instigate motion sickness and creating a much smoother ride.
Motion sickness is already an issue in manually driven cars, and autonomy will only magnify the problem. Jim Lackner, a professor of physiology at Brandeis University, told the MIT Tech Review that issues like drowsiness, headaches, and eyestrain, which many people get in a manually driven car, are all symptoms of vehicle-based motion sickness.
Early reviews of self-driving cars, meanwhile, signal this issue could be worse in these vehicles, given the cars’ motions are often jerky, and they make abrupt stops. ClearMotion claims in a paper published in 2016 that seven of nine people who experienced some degree of motion sickness in their control test experienced little to no nausea when its devices were activated.
Uncomfortable rides won’t keep companies from deploying autonomous services in limited settings, but they’ll need to confront this issue before scaling up. Waymo, Uber, and General Motors all appear ready to deploy their autonomous cars as part of a commercial ride-hailing service by the end of next year.
These initial deployments of autonomous ride-hailing services will be confined to limited geographic settings that are easy for the cars’ underlying systems to handle, such as the straight, flat roads in the suburbs of Phoenix. However, as companies scale up their services to areas that have roads with sharp, windy turns, it will inevitably be more challenging for the vehicles’ sensor hardware and computing systems to cruise without significant motion.
Carmakers and other firms working on self-driving technologies will either need to develop a system like ClearMotion’s in-house or license or purchase one. Otherwise, they’ll risk offering a low-quality rider experience, ultimately depressing their rides booked and revenue from autonomous ride-hailing services.
The self-driving car is no longer a futuristic fantasy. Consumers can already buy vehicles that, within a few years time, will get software updates enabling them to hit the road without the need for a driver.
This autonomous revolution will upend the automotive sector and disrupt huge swaths of the economy, while radically improving energy efficiency and changing the way people approach transport around the world.
Automakers and tech companies are racing to develop the technology that will power self-driving cars in the coming years. That tech is advancing, but leaves observers with a bigger question: will consumers trust driverless car tech, and will they want to use autonomous cars?
- Sizes the current and future self-driving car market, forecasting shipments and projecting installed base.
- Explains the current state of technology, regulation, and consumer perception.
- Analyzes how the development of autonomous cars will impact employment and the economy.
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