Simulator Helps Crash Victims Get Back on the Road

A new driving simulation laboratory in the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is designed to help vehicular accident victims overcome their fears.

The state-of-the-art facility, housed in UB's New York State Center for Industrial Design and Innovation (NYSCEDII), is available for use by students, faculty, and industry to conduct research on automotive and flight vehicles, driver behavior, acclimation of accident victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and even supplemental training of young drivers.

"This is one of a handful of motion simulator facilities in the U.S. and the only one within the State University of New York System," said Kemper Lewis, Ph.D., executive director of NYSCEDII and professor in the school's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Funded by a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the simulator also has made it possible for UB to offer for the first time a unique course on road-vehicle dynamics.

"The true power of our simulation facility is its ability to test a wide variety of roadway scenarios," said Kevin Hulme, Ph.D., NYSCEDII research associate. "The marriage of large-screen visualization and six-degree-of-freedom motion cueing provides an efficient mechanism to conduct road-vehicle test studies, with a specific interest in improving transportation planning and roadway safety."

The UB simulator consists of a "car" mounted on a six-degree-of-freedom motion base, donated by Moog Inc., that simulates realistically the sensations of turning, braking, and traveling up or downhill. The cabin is outfitted with high-performance simulation controls, such as a steering wheel and accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, all of which combine to make the experience extremely authentic, according to NYSCEDII researchers. While the platform is moving, a 10-foot-by-8-foot display screen shows visualizations that simulate the "ride" the motion base passengers experience.

Students in the road-vehicle dynamics course can use the simulator to realistically explore how design issues impact the physics and mechanics of vehicles.

A primary goal of the new facility is to expose students, researchers, and members of industry to this critical tool to advance the design and engineering of safer roadways.

For example, Hulme noted, roundabouts, also known as traffic circles, are becoming more common in the U.S. in an effort to reduce fatalities at intersections. "A lot of fatal accidents take place at intersections," he said. "With our motion simulator, we can take a standard four-way intersection, press a button and the system graphically and physically simulates how traffic would change if it were a roundabout."

NYSCEDII researchers are developing a suite of visualizations that will allow users to simulate a variety of traffic conditions, such as inclement weather, nighttime driving, even motorcycle studies.

For more information, visit www.buffalo.edu.

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