Before Graduation

New Ohio State University Simulation Lab Paves the Road to Distraction-Free Driving

Nov. 6, 2012
Buckle up, Ohio. A new driving simulation laboratory at The Ohio State University will help shed light on distracted driving behavior and help pave the road to distracted driving prevention.

The new $1.3 million, 5,800-square-foot Ohio State University Driving Simulation Laboratory will allow researchers to monitor drivers’ heart rate, eye movement and stress levels in a realistic driving environment to better understand and prevent distracted driving.

“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,” said Jan Weisenberger, senior associate vice president for research at The Ohio State University. “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.”

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.

Safety via Simulation

The simulator, which is manufactured by Realtime Technologies Inc., features a vehicle frame mounted on a platform with six degrees of motion freedom o provide 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, LCD side mirrors will offer 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.

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. Additionally, researchers will be able to monitor a driver’s blood pressure, respiration rate and other measures to get an indication of the driver’s stress level.

The lab also will 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 new facility is a partnership between Ohio State, Honda R&D Americas, Inc. and the Ohio Supercomputer Center. The Ohio Board of Regents will provide $250,000 to help fund the lab, with an emphasis on the lab’s potential for creating jobs in Ohio.

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