Virtual Reality and Self-Driving Cars

For years I’ve heard whispers about virtual reality inside of self-driving cars, supposedly incubated as quiet projects inside of secretive companies. Variety just delivered a small scoop in that vein, by digging up a couple of Apple patent applications related to virtual reality inside of self-driving cars.

Variety quotes from one of the patent applications:

“For example, a virtual representation of an author or talk show host may appear to be sitting in the seat next to the passenger; the virtual author may be reading one of their books to the passenger, or the virtual talk show host may be hosting their show from the seat next to the passenger, with their voices provided through the audio system. As another example, the passenger may experience riding on a flatbed truck with a band playing a gig on the flatbed, with the band’s music provide (sic) through the audio system.”

An extra wrinkle in the article is that the name on a couple of these patent applications is Mark Rober. Rober was previously unknown to me, but he has a YouTube channel with 3.5 million subscribers and videos like Lemon Powered Supercar, and World’s LARGEST NERF GUN.

Regardless of the patents’ author, a more prosaic description comes in the first sentence of one of the patent summaries:

“A VR system for vehicles that may implement methods that address problems with vehicles in motion that may result in motion sickness for passengers.”

I’ve written in the past about my difficulty doing serious cognitive work in a moving vehicle, even though I’m not driving. There are many ways to address this: improve the quality of roads, improve the quality of motion control through vehicular software, better mechanical suspension systems, possibly flying cars, and of course virtual reality.

Of these options, virtual reality seems less likely to me, because my impression is that virtual reality tends to induce motion sickness even in stationary situations. There is an argument presented in the patent that a moving vehicle in some ways mitigates the motion sickness problem, but my intuition is that this seems unlikely.

I would be excited to be proven wrong, though, and would love to try it out.

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