Campus News

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

News Release

August 16, 2002

U of G to build driving simulator

Virtual-reality driving games don’t even come close to comparing with a new state-of-the-art driving simulator being built at the University of Guelph. Big sound and huge screens that surround a real car — complete with controls, accessories and gadgets — and vibrations that coincide with the car’s apparent motion make the driver believe he or she is actually driving.

The driving simulator is being built to allow a team of psychologists, computer scientists, engineers and physicians from four Ontario universities to test the efficacy of in-vehicle driving aids and investigate variables that could affect driving performance.

Psychology professor Lana Trick, who heads the multidisciplinary team, believed a driving simulator was the only way to study driving behaviour without putting people at risk. “We’re interested in investigating factors that cause accidents and in-vehicle devices that might be used to reduce accident risk,” she said. “To study these things, it is sometimes necessary to put drivers in challenging situations.”

Unlike any other driving simulator in Canada, this system will have a 250-degree wraparound screen and a 50-degree rear view so that drivers can see most of their driving environment. A scenario is played out on the screens and unfolds according to the driver’s actions.

A full range of view will help the researchers study the cause of intersection accidents, which usually occur when drivers don’t see cars coming at them from the side or behind.

The system uses two major software systems that allow minimal lag between the driver’s action and the response of the system. Road, weather, lighting and traffic 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 will allow researchers to observe the driver’s actions and reactions.

The different strengths of the research team will allow them to gather information on the technological, psychological and physical aspects of driving. Their goal is to look at how driver behaviour and crash risk are influenced by age, experience, gender, personality variables, road visibility and traffic conditions, said Trick.

She is most interested in age-related changes in attention and driving. Accident records show that driver inattention causes many collisions and that the youngest and oldest drivers are disproportionately at risk.

“The youngest are at risk because they are inexperienced and lack good judgment, but the mystery to me is why the oldest drivers are at risk,” said Trick. “They are experienced and much more safety-conscious. They may look carefully and yet collide with a pedestrian, cyclist or another vehicle; it is almost as if they cannot notice it. They have a diminished ‘useful field of view,’ and this puts them at particular risk for accidents at intersections. Once we know how driving ability and attention change with age, then we can look at in-vehicle devices and determine if they will help older drivers focus on the important things.”

Last month, Trick was notified that she and her team will receive $269,890 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s New Opportunities Fund for their driving simulator research. The team is now in the process of determining what building will accommodate the driving simulator. The system should be built within a year.

Trick hopes her research will help reduce traffic fatalities and injuries while allowing older drivers to maintain or extend their mobility.

“The research findings could be useful to organizations in setting up laws and regulations related to issues like vehicle design, testing and determining who’s going to have a licence,” she said. “I also hope the results will be useful in creating in-vehicle devices and training programs that help older drivers compensate for age-related changes in the way their vision and visual attention work.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, 519-824-4120, Ext. 6982.

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