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Zombie Road Highway
How about playing a game like Zombie Road Highway in virtual reality while you’re riding in a self-driving car? Now there’s a patent application for that. (Dawn Studio Illustration)

Running over virtual zombies might seem like a strange way to fight motion sickness in a moving car, but that’s exactly what Apple is suggesting passengers do in patent applications published today.

The applications, filed last September, aren’t focused on zombies per se. They merely suggest how a virtual-reality or augmented-reality system, complete with headset, could help counter that queasy feeling some folks get when they’re riding.

“Vehicle motions may be integrated into the virtual experiences to help prevent motion sickness,” the inventors explain. They even suggest adding physical effects, ranging from surround-sound audio to the rush of hot or cold breezes through the car’s vents.

The inputs would come from sensors on the car — including laser rangefinders, accelerometers and depth cameras, as well as the vehicle’s own steering and speed control systems. All that data could be supplemented by GPS readings and stored maps, with a little bit of a fun or fear added to the mix.

The inventors say that’s where the zombies lurch into the picture:

“Passengers may choose to have relaxing virtual experiences while riding in a vehicle such as floating down a river or soaring over the landscape in a hang glider, or exciting virtual experiences such as a car chase or driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with zombies attacking, or anything in between. …

“The virtual experiences may be interactive in other ways, for example allowing a passenger to pass other vehicles during a road race experience, or run over zombies in a post-apocalyptic landscape. As another example, if the vehicle stops at a red light or for some other reason when fleeing zombies in a post-apocalyptic landscape, the virtual experience may cause the vehicle to appear to stall and not allow the car to be restarted until the light turns green to build suspense.”

Apple’s team even suggests that when the car runs over a speed bump, passengers experience it as running over a zombie. Alternatively, it could be portrayed as riding a canoe over a log in the river.

Why put so much effort into an in-vehicle virtual experience? The inventors think this’ll be a thing when self-driving cars become common:

“Many passengers in vehicles may experience motion sickness. Typically, this is not the case for the driver. However, with the arrival of autonomous vehicles, the driver becomes a passenger, and thus may want to occupy themselves while, for example, riding to work. Passengers in conventional or autonomous vehicles may, for example, want to read a book, or work on their notebook computer. However, many passengers in vehicles may experience motion sickness if trying to read or work on a computer because the vestibular sense of motion does not correspond to the visual motion experienced.”

Instead, the headset system could let passengers to read their books in a virtual environment that’s tweaked to compensate for the effects of road motion, or conduct a business meeting with other avatars … or even take a computer-generated trip to Zombieland.

At least that’s the idea. The inventors refer only glancingly to the fact that for some people, virtual-reality experiences themselves can produce a sense of nausea. To address that potential problem, the tech could be tweaked even further to make VR more comfortable. Or you could try just looking out the window — which, come to think of it, is the classic way to fend off motion sickness.

Hat tip to Bob Burrough.

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