At the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), researchers have the ability to take transportation studies even further using the Institute’s driving simulator.
TTI’s portable desktop driving simulator is housed in the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS). The Realtime Technologies, Inc. system uses SimCreator, software that allows researchers to test real-world roadway scenarios. Most simulators (including TTI’s previous model) are in a fixed location so research participants can only be attracted from the city where the simulator resides. Since TTI’s simulator takes up less space, and is easily transported, researchers can use it to gather data from geographically and demographically diverse locations.
Associate Research Specialist Alicia Nelson, programmer of the simulator for the past 10 years, said, “We picked this system because we can use it to recreate many different scenarios, and its portability means it can be used in any city.”
Why Use a Simulator?
Driving simulators provide a safe and controlled environment to further explore how and why people react in certain driving situations. In the simulated environment it is possible to inexpensively test multiple variations of a specific scenario.
A wider variety of roadway design and traffic conditions can be tested than are typically available in a test-track study or fiscally practical in a field study. The simulator also allows researchers to run subjects in a controlled, and safe, environment before taking them out to a test track.
“One cool thing about this software is that the company has given us the capability to create our own roadways,” Nelson said. “For example, we could mockup Riverside if we wanted. The base system that we have is also adaptable, allowing us to diversify our research capabilities in the future.”
These possibilities include being able to model a particular type of vehicle, such as an 18-wheeler or bicycle, or moving to full size projections instead of computer monitors. New additions to simulator research at TTI include new programmers. In January, Realtime Technologies, Inc., trained three new programmers, Myung Ko, Jeff Miles and Marcie Perez
Another new feature to the simulator is the ability to use the faceLAB eye tracking system from Seeing Machines in conjunction with the simulator.
Assistant Research Engineer Jeff Miles said, “The integration of the Seeing Machines eye-tracker with the Realtime driving simulator will enable researchers to investigate where drivers are looking within different driving environments. This can be critical to reaction and time, especially in visual complex driving environments, such as urban freeway segments, urban arterials, and residential streets.”
Miles explains that depending on the setup of the study, researchers could evaluate potential new traffic control devices or roadway geometry treatments against existing devices and geometry to estimate how effective those potential treatments might be in the real world with respect to detection within a visual complex environment, prior to field deployment. He says this will allow for an increase in what can be tested while keeping costs down.
“Now, going back to the integration of the eye-tracker with the driving simulator, we are already collecting eye-tracker data at our closed-course facilities and on the open road. So, gathering eye-tracking data both in the driving simulator and the real world will enable researchers to also link any changes in eye-tracking behavior between the simulator and the real world to further support the research findings and to improve future simulator studies.” Studies that have used the driving simulator include:
- Studies to Determine the Effectiveness of Longitudinal Channelizing Devices in Work Zones
- Driver Workload and Visual Studies
- Studies to Improve Temporary Traffic Control at Urban Freeway Interchanges and Pavement Marking Material Selection in Work Zones
- Guidelines for the use of Pavement Marking Symbols at Freeway Interchanges
- Test Procedures for Evaluating Distraction Potential in Connected Vehicle Systems
If you’re interested in using the simulator for a future project, contact Alicia Nelson.