In March 2007, TTI researchers began monitoring drivers who volunteered for a variety of projects designed to study human behavior with the help of a $100,000 ‘smart car.’
TTI’s Instrumented Vehicle is a 2006 Toyota Highlander equipped with numerous video cameras, a Global Positioning System (GPS), radar and an on-board computer that is able to collect data from 128 high speed sensor channels. For example, when the driver turns the steering wheel, or presses the accelerator or brake pedal, the computer records the information, letting the researchers know how the driver responded in specific situations.
“The potential research applications for the Instrumented Vehicle are limitless,” says Susan Chrysler, manager of the Human Factors Program and Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) senior research scientist. “Each study will help us make driving safer by knowing how motorists react during certain situations. It will also let us know which roadside safety and warning devices are the most helpful in terms of either visibility or effectiveness.”
During its first year of operation, the Instrumented Vehicle was used in major research projects, with numerous others in the planning stages. “We’ve completed four major studies and have five more planned over the next few months. The Instrumented Vehicle is in huge demand,” according to Chrysler. So popular is the Instrumented Vehicle, researchers sometimes have to work their projects around the vehicle’s availability.
The research includes projects with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Southwest University Transportation Center. Those projects evaluated things like distractions of in-vehicle entertainment devices, road sign legibility, driver behaviors on curves on rural highways and driver eye movements when entering freeway on-ramps. Over 100 volunteer research participants have driven the car to date.
The Instrumented Vehicle was made possible with funding from CTS, TTI Administration, and the TTI’s Transportation Operations Group.
“I think the key to making the road safer today is in the field of prevention,” according to Chrysler. “Our instrumented vehicle monitors driver behavior, which we must first understand in order to prevent the common errors people make.”