KU’s Simulator Collects Optical Data to Study Distracted DrivingPosted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 by Mike McKenna
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We recently hosted eight Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) roadway engineers at the University of Kansas’s (KU) Transportation Engineering Analysis Laboratory (TEAL). At the lab, grad students, under the direction of Dr. Alexandria Kondyli, use an in-house simulator to examine the human factors that impact driving. Current studies are focused on various aspects of distracted driving and their effects. The two organizations share common goals, as KDOT provides resources to K-TRAN, a cooperative and comprehensive research program.
The simulator is built into an Acura MDX cab. Using it is similar to playing a video game. TEAL staff and students can modify the software to create different roadway scenarios. These are then used to test how a driver would react. You can find a full overview of the driving simulator here.
Over the years, KU has made several enhancements. Speakers have been installed, and the imaging has been upgraded to make the simulations more realistic. They’ve also added an optical tracker to the car’s steering wheel. It can see where a driver is looking and even tell if they’ve fallen asleep.
“With the optical tracker, researchers can determine the degree to which drivers are distracted. They can test different kinds of signage and message boards to see which ones are most effective. The tracker can even tell if a driver’s pupils are dilated or not,” said Lee Baer, PE traffic engineer at Affinis Corp.
TEAL offers grad students the opportunity to test real world problems, while working towards their degrees. To study driver awareness, they often recreate distracting scenarios. For example, they may ask test subjects to perform certain tasks on a phone or ipad, eat food, or apply make-up, while driving the simulator. In the future, KU plans to continue to expand their capabilities and further mimic actual roadway conditions.