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How cars can use sound to help you avoid getting motion sickness

Published May 21, 2021


JOHANNESBURG - The age-old challenge of motion sickness in cars - something that will be all the more evident as autonomous vehicles take centre stage in future - is in the spotlight this week. Researchers at Volvo, in collaboration with video game company Pole Position Production, released a video which unpacks the idea of Sonic Interaction in Intelligent Cars to curb motion sickness.

Charmagne Mavudzi, Volvo Car South Africa’s Head of Consumer Experience explains: “As people start driving less, be it because they make more use of e-hailing services or move onto autonomous vehicles in future, the fact remains that their eyes will be fixed on a smartphone or tablet screen, which often results in motion sickness. This demonstration of Sound Interaction in Intelligent Cars (SIIC) that Volvo undertook with Pole Position Production, is an industry-first research project on sound design for autonomous cars.”

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The company believes that the technology used to create these unique sound concepts could increase trust and reduce motion sickness.

Unpacking the technology

But what exactly is the technology behind it all? The idea is focused on using sound as the main modality for presenting information to the user.

In order to gather information from the test cars, Volvo used a product simulator platform based on the Unity game engine and Audiokinetic’s feature-rich Wwise audio solution, in conjunction with Volvo’s UX study platform. They quickly realised that the sounds had to subtly emerge from the background noise of the car and then as gently disappear back into it.

With the press of a button one could switch between a virtual car driving on a virtual road, to the real car driving on a real road. The sounds are the same, but one of them is coming through the car’s speakers.

The technology basically guides the car user through audio, instead of visuals. Pole Position Production’s CEO, Max Lachmann, explains that in gaming, they constantly use sound information to guide a player. He says that in a car, users might not need to hear gear shifts or indicators, but rather other audio information.

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Although previous studies have investigated the use of visual information to reduce motion sickness, the research demonstrated how sound might perhaps be a more appropriate solution.

Watch this video for more information on how Sonic Interaction works:

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