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Research driving simulators in science

Numerous laboratories in the world work with research driving simulators nowadays to perform experimental research into human driver behaviour, human factors, man machine interfaces or basic psychological research. One of the first research driving simulators was developed in the 90ties at the Traffic Research Center in Groningen, then a lab of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, that was aimed at traffic research.

Research driving simulators are used for several purposes:

  • Behaviour research into driving behaviour. This is usually at Universities, especially traffic behaviour research groups with a focus on psychological research
  • Human factors research. This is usually aimed at studies into workload while interacting with in-vehicle devices, measurement of effects of distractions, for example while using a cell phone while driving. UIsers can be universities of car manufacturers
  • Attention and psychological functions. Car driving is an example of a complex task that consists of multiple subtasks that are performed simultaneously. So this task is interesting for studies into divided attention, prolonged task performance and fatigue (sustained attention), learning and task automation, effects of alcohol, drugs and medication, etc. Clinical studies into special groups with brain injury, effects of aging etc. all fall into this category.
  • Effects of design considerations on driving performance. This is typically studies by research groups of car manufacturers.

Research driving simulators typically consist of:

  • realtime driving simulations where the subject driver around a virtual world in a virtual car with a steering wheel, pedals, gear shifter and actuators
  • a measurement system for measuring data such as looking behaviour, use of actuators, position on the road, headway to lead vehicles, time to intersection, time to collision, standard deviation of lateral position, etc
  • a tool to design simulations and experiments. This may be a graphical tool or a script language. Script languages usually take longer to learn but they are more flexible and give the user generally more functionality
  • a tool to develop virtual environments.


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