Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

September 09, 2005

Virtual Reality Driving Simulator Opens at U of G

The University of Guelph today unveiled Canada’s most advanced virtual reality automobile driving simulator, a $1-million state-of-the-art machine that will allow researchers to investigate the effect age, experience and technological devices have on crash risk.

“This is truly an innovative new addition to the University of Guelph’s research landscape,” Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research), said during a grand-opening celebration. “Drivers have an interactive relationship with their vehicles, and this simulator will enable that relationship to be better understood, ultimately creating a safer driving experience.”

Suzanne Corbeil, vice-president external relations of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), one of the project’s major funding sponsors, added: “We commend the project leaders and staff for their vision and commitment to building this powerful and innovative simulator. This project represents what the CFI is all about: providing the tools to institutions and researchers so that they can do the leading edge research that will benefit all Canadians.”

The simulator, housed in Guelph’s engineering building, features a real automobile surrounded by large wraparound viewing screens. A scenario is played out on the screens and unfolds according to the driver’s actions. The car’s vibrations also coincide with decisions of the person behind the wheel.

“The driver is immersed in a virtual reality,” said psychology professor Lana Trick, who, along with computing and information science professor Blair Nonnecke, is leading a multidisciplinary research team. “They feel as if they are actually driving and experience all the associated sights, sounds and emotional responses.”

The researchers hope their work will eventually help reduce traffic injuries and fatalities. Accident reports indicate that driver inattention causes many collisions, and that the youngest and oldest drivers are disproportionately at risk. Trick and Nonnecke want to learn why and how to diminish this danger. They also hope to discover how devices such as cellphones, DVD players and geographical information systems affect driving performance. In addition, they plan to study how driver behaviour is influenced by experience, gender, personality variables, road visibility, legal and illegal drugs, and traffic conditions.

“We’re interested in investigating various factors that cause accidents,” Nonnecke said. “To study these things, it’s sometimes necessary to put drivers in challenging situations, and this simulator allows us to do just that without any risk.”

The simulator uses two major software systems that allow minimal lag between the driver’s action and the response of the system. Road, weather, lighting, traffic and other conditions can all be manipulated during testing. “This system is good because of its flexibility,” said Trick. “You can actually build a driving environment so that driver behaviours trigger events in the simulation. For example, the driver might adjust the radio and this could trigger the simulator to produce an image of a child jumping out from behind a parked car.”

The vehicle’s movements, the driver’s responses and the driver’s eye movements are all measured by the system. Cameras placed inside and outside the car also allow researchers to observe the driver’s actions and reactions.

The simulator was funded by CFI, the Ontario Innovation Trust, Science and Engineering and Research Canada, the AUTO21 Network of Centres of Excellence and CanDrive.

Prof. Lana Trick
Department of Psychology
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 53518

Prof. Blair Nonnecke
Department of Computing and Information Science
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 56407

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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