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Research Tools

[Highway Driving Simulator]  [Field Research Vehicles
[Sign Design and Research Facility]  [miniSimTM Driving Simulator
[Virtual Reality (VR) Lab]

The Human Factors Team uses a collection of established tools and cutting-edge technology to conduct safety and operation research within the Human Factors Laboratory. The Highway Sign Design and Research Facility allows researchers to assess comprehension and legibility of novel and existing signs, evaluate potential infrastructure, and examine trust and understanding of vehicle technology. Virtual and simulated environments, such as those created in the Virtual Reality Laboratory, the Highway Driving Simulator, and the miniSimTM Driving Simulator, offer safe and controllable venues for conducting transportation research.

Simulations remove the risks associated with actual roadways and allow for experimental control of roadway and traffic characteristics that would be difficult to manipulate in the real world. Because researchers can control and manipulate the environment, the effects of variations in infrastructure design and vehicle technology can be tested relatively quickly and efficiently. Field Research Vehicles are used to take human factors research onto actual roadways. Researchers use vehicle and eye tracking data to assess drivers’ behavior in the real world.

Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory

"A volunteer stands, wearing a virtual reality headset, in front of a monitor showing a simulated environment.""

Source: FHWA.

The Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory allows the Human Factors Team to study pedestrians’ and cyclists’ behavior. VR headsets place participants in immersive, computer-generated, 3D environments with which they can interact. The laboratory’s headsets have high resolution organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays and provide a 110-degree field of view. Two sensors mounted on opposite corners of the ceiling create a 4-by-4-meter area that participants can walk around in and they can use wireless controllers to interact with objects in VR. The headset is also equipped with a sensor that detects and renders a representation of a participant's hands that can be displayed in virtual reality to increase immersion. Researchers use a 3D engine, development software, and two high end workstations to support the development and rendering of virtual environments.

"A volunteer, wearing a virtual reality headset, sits on a stationary bicycle with a monitor on the wall behind him that is showing a simulated intersection.""
Source: FHWA.

The VR Laboratory houses a bicycle simulator. The Human Factors Team uses the simulator to test bicyclists’ reactions to new technology, signing, and lane markings before they are implemented in the field. It also provides a safe way of exposing participants to hazards and traffic while biking. The bicycle simulator consists of a stationary bicycle that is paired with a VR headset. The bicycle wirelessly transmits participant data and is used in conjunction with the VR headset to assess cyclists’ reactions to simulated environments. Vibrating cuffs that can be attached to the handlebars of the bicycle allow researchers to deliver haptic alerts to participants.  The bicycle simulator provides a safe, easy-to-manipulate environment for studying bicyclers’ behavior.

Highway Driving Simulator (HDS)

"The highway driving simulator comprising of a large, curved projection screen, showing a simulated road and intersection, in front of a car connected to the simulation computers."

Source: FHWA.

The Human Factors Team uses the Highway Driving Simulator (HDS) to study drivers' reactions in simulated environments. The HDS consists of a full automobile chassis surrounded by a semicircular projection screen (radius of 8.5 feet, or 2.6 meters). Three high-definition, digital projectors render a seamless 200-degree view (motorists' field of view) of high-fidelity, computer-generated roadway scenes. Three liquid-crystal display (LCD) panels are used to simulate the vehicle's rearview and side mirrors. The simulator has a six-degree-of-freedom motion-base that provides pitch and surge (for acceleration and braking), lateral, roll, yaw (for curve and turning forces), and heave (for bumps) cues synchronized with the visual environment. The simulator's sound system provides engine, wind, tire noises, and other environmental sounds.

In addition, the driving simulator has a 120-Hz eye-tracking capability, which allows researchers to investigate where participants are looking when they drive through various roadway scenarios. Physiological responses can also be measured. The Human Factors Team uses Ag/AgCl electrodes, which collect electrodermal (EDA) responses and a photoplethsymography (PPG) sensor, which collects heart rate data via pulse recordings. Both sensors connected to a small Bluetooth transmitter that can be worn on the wrist.  

miniSim™ Driving Simulator

"A volunteer seated in the mock driver seat, hands on the steering wheel, navigating a simulated environment shown on multiple screens designed to simulate windows of a car."

Source: FHWA.

The Human Factors Team uses the miniSim Driving Simulator to conduct research on simulated roadways for studies that do not require the full emersion of the HDS. The miniSim Driving Simulator is a fixed-base, quarter-cab driving simulator. It includes gas and brake pedals, an instrument cluster for displaying speed and other information, and a touchscreen in-vehicle display. The adjustable driver's seat is equipped with an array of vibrating mechanisms in the seat pan that can be used to provide lateralized haptic alerts. The steering wheel includes a steering wheel loader and torque transducer that can be programmed to provide feedback. Simulated roadways are displayed on three 48” high-definition screens, and a subwoofer in the base of the simulator provides road feel.

The Highway Sign Design and Research Facility

"A volunteer, seated at a desk with a keyboard, looking at a monitor. A researcher sits behind her, at his own desk with a computer.""

Source: FHWA.

Researchers use the Sign Design and Research Facility to test drivers’ comprehension of signs and intersections, assess sign legibility and conspicuity, and conduct stated preference and reaction time studies. The Human Factors Team uses experimental, infrastructure design, and legibility software to assess participants’ attitudes and behaviors in a controlled environment. Signs are developed for research using the same software applications used by State Departments of Transportation, thus ensuring that signs presented in the laboratory accurately mimic signs as they would appear in the field. An infrastructure design software suite enables the rapid development of interactive static or dynamic roadway simulation environments and realistic roadways (including using existing geographic information system (GIS) data).

Field Research Vehicles (FRV)

"Photo of a CARMA field research vehicle - a four door hatchback with an instrument rig on the roof and the CARMA logo painted on the doors.""

Source: FHWA.

The Human Factors Team uses field research vehicles (FRVs) to conduct research on real roadways. The FRVs include an instrumented Sport Utility Vehicle and a sedan. Both are outfitted with a data logger with controller area network (CAN bus) interface and are equipped to track GPS position and record vehicle following distance. Researchers are able to record and analyze multiple vehicle measurements, such as steering wheel angle, vehicle speed, accelerator position, brake usage, distance traveled, use of turn signals, use of steering wheel buttons, and other variables. Collecting these measurements from roadway experiments allows researchers to study and better understand driver behavior and performance.

"A close up of a car dashboard, showing a volunteer's hands on the steering wheel, and beyond that a eye-tracking device mounted on the dashboard, facing the volunteer's eyes."

Source: FHWA.

Each FRV is also equipped with an eye-tracking system that consists of two infrared (IR) light sources and three face cameras mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle. The cameras can track the head position and gaze of the driver without interfering with normal driver behavior. Three additional cameras mounted on the exterior of the vehicles’ roofs, directly above the driver’s position, capture a panoramic, forward view of the driving scene that is 80 degrees wide and 40 degrees high, reaching from the left side of the windshield to a portion of the right side. Participants’ eye gaze information is synchronized with this panoramic view to determine where the driver is looking throughout the drive. Eye tracking in the FRVs helps researchers study drivers’ perception and attention when traveling on actual roadways.