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research driving simulators

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There are numerous universities in the world that have a research group in Human Factors or traffic behaviour studies. A lot of these would benefit a lot if they would have a research driving simulator. This is a tool that enables researchers to perform measurements on human car driving behaviour in a controlled environment. The minimum hardware and software of a research driving simulator is:

  • fast computer with a GPU that has outputs for 3 monitors: one for the left, middle and right out-of-the-window views
  • a GPU with sufficient on-board memory and bandwidth so complex visual scenes can be rendered over a large horizontal field of view
  • pedals, buttons, shifter and steering wheel with a rotation of 900 degrees and sufficient force feedback
  • real time simulation software that renders traffic scenes
  • software for scenario generation and experiment generation
  • software for building and modifying virtual environments
  • software for data inspection and analysis.

The advantages of a driving simulator over experiments in the real world with instrumented vehicles are:

  • instrumented vehicles are extremely expensive and inflexible
  • in a simulator you have complete control over the environment, lighting and traffic situations
  • the number of variables that can be measured in a simulator are many more, compared to what can be measured in the real world
  • identical circumstances for all subjects in a simulator
  • safe environment to do your research.

Because you can control your environment and circumstances in a driving simulator, unexplained variance is lower in a simulator. Since the statistical power of tests is determined by the ratio of explained and unexplained variance (or statistical noise) , you need fewer subjects and can do more reliable measurements in a simulator. Also, experiments on the road that are potential dangerous for the subjects can be done safely in a simulator. That’s why studies on the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving behaviour or the effects of medication, prolonged driving, fatigue, or tests with people with neurological conditions can be done much safer in a simulator.

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