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New Simulation Lab Will Study Driver Distraction

The new $1.3 million Ohio State University Driving Simulation Laboratory will be the most technologically sophisticated such lab in Ohio and will help researchers learn more about driver distraction and how to prevent it.

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Researchers will focus on driving while distracted and more

The new $1.3 million Ohio State University Driving Simulation Laboratory will be the most technologically sophisticated such lab in Ohio and will help researchers learn more about driver distraction and how to prevent it.

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The state-of-the-art 5,800-square-foot facility – a partnership between Ohio State, Honda R&D Americas, Inc., and the Ohio Supercomputer Center – is located in a university building on Kinnear Road.

“It will allow scientists to monitor peoples’ heart rate, eye movement and stress levels while they are in a realistic driving environment,” said Jan Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research at The Ohio State University. “This new lab is designed to offer a visually immersive and realistic driving experience that will allow researchers to study how people actually react and behave behind the wheel.” Weisenberger continued. “Researchers from Ohio State, Honda R&D, and other partners will have the opportunity to collaborate on projects that will make driving safer for everyone.”

Ohio State University
The new $1.3 million Ohio State University Driving Simulation Laboratory aims to prevent auto accidents such as this one, particularly those caused by driver distraction. Dori, Wikimedia Commons

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to announce new guidelines this fall that aim to ensure that drivers don’t become too distracted by entertainment and navigation systems in cars. For automakers, testing these systems in a driving simulator is required to ensure compliance with the new guidelines.

“In the driving simulation lab, prototype systems can be tested early in the design process, where modifications are less costly to incorporate, compared with testing only the production version of the system,” said Weisenberger.

In addition to Ohio State, two other universities in the state will be involved in a consortium that will run the facility: the Wright State University Center of Excellence in Human-Centered Design and the Ohio University Driving Simulation Lab.

A vehicle frame mounted on a platform with six degrees of motion freedom will give people in the simulator a sense of motion much like that of riding in a real car. The simulator screen, served by five high-resolution projectors, will curve around the drivers for 240 degrees, offering a realistic view of a driving task. In some setups, there will even be LCD side mirrors, offering drivers a view of what is behind them in a particular driving scenario. The vehicle dynamics – things like steering feel, braking, and suspension – can be changed in software to approximate the driving experience for different cars.

The simulator is manufactured by Realtime Technologies Inc. of Royal Oak, MI.

Three eye-tracking cameras will allow researchers to see how drivers’ heads move as they shift their gaze, determine how long they gaze at any one place, and see often they blink. The eye-tracker system can even give an indication of how sleepy a driver may be. Researchers will also be able to monitor a driver’s blood pressure, respiration rate, and other measures to get an indication of the driver’s stress level.

“One of the most exciting possibilities for this new lab is how many different kinds of projects can be done here,” Weisenberger said. She is especially interested in how this lab will foster collaboration between researchers from Honda R&D, Ohio State and other partners.

The lab will be of use to more than just engineering researchers. In one meeting to discuss possibilities for projects in the new lab, researchers from linguistics, neurology, psychology, speech and hearing science – as well as various engineering departments – Weisenberger indicated they all showed interest.

The lab will also allow researchers to study how special populations, such as teenagers and elderly, may differ from others in how they respond to different driving situations.

The Ohio Board of Regents will provide $250,000 to help fund the lab, with their emphasis on the lab’s potential for creating jobs in Ohio.

“Simulation work is going to become more and more vital in all kinds of industries, not just the auto industry,” Weisenberger said.

“We have the opportunity to train students who will become a very valuable asset to Ohio industries. This trained workforce may serve to attract new companies to Ohio and help many companies that are already in the state.”