Driving Simulation Laboratory
On rural roads, the fatality rate is more than twice that of urban areas. The Western Transportation Institute (WTI) is dedicated to understanding the driver role in fatal rural traffic crashes and developing driver support systems to improve traffic safety.
WTI currently operates a suite of three driving simulators, with the most advanced driving simulation capability of any research university in North America. The WTI simulators are used to do experimental research on driver behavior and to help engineers “visualize” new technology systems or traffic engineering designs at early stages of development.
These state-of-the-art facilities allow our team of researchers to conduct complex and realistic traffic research in a controlled environment before extending the research to naturalistic setting of test track and open road studies. Simulation offers many advantages for safety research, in particular the ability to study the human aspects of crash and near crash events without risk to participants.
WTI’s three driving simulators cover a range of fidelity, allowing researchers to match each simluator’s capabilities to the needs, complexity, and budget of the project:
- Eight-channel virtual reality motion-based (6 degrees of freedom) driving simulator with dual-cab installation (sedan, pickup), which is used for human factors experimentation and system evaluations.
- Three-channel virtual reality non-motion driving simulator with quarter-cab installation (sedan), which is used for visualization, human factors experiments and system evaluations.
- PC-based desktop simulators that run the same software as the advanced driving simulator, which are used for infrastructure and transportation visualization, as well as traffic modeling and basic research.
The laboratory has been used on projects to:
- Evaluate how talking on a cellular phone affects a driver’s reaction time to hazards on a rural road
- Simulate the placement of warning signs at various locations on a segment of highway, in order to help design engineers select the most effective installation sites
- Study how drivers respond to a variety of message signs that warn of animals near the roadway, to determine which ones have the most impact on safe driving behavior in wildlife crossing areas
WTI has embarked on a systematic program to optimize and tune its advanced driving simulator so that it provides a realistic research and testing environment capable of yielding results that are transferable to the real world. This tuning and optimization work was completed by Dr. Erwin R. Boer (Entropy Control Inc.) who is an international expert in modeling and optimizing perceptual cues in driving simulators. This involved comparing the response of the simulator including its motion base to driver input (steering, throttle, and braking) with the response of an instrumented vehicle that matched the type of vehicle used to develop the simulator dynamic model (Chevrolet Impala). The following press releases summarize the results.
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
- Montana Department of Transportation (MDT)
- USDOT, Research and Innovative Technologies Administration
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- College of Engineering, Montana State University
Nicholas Ward, Ph.D (406) 994-5942