Virtual Reality May Link Simulated Driving with Real Driving Using the Human Brain

First Posted: Nov 24, 2015 07:46 AM EST

Virtual reality may make the road a bit safer for everyone else. Using their state-of-the-art simulation facility, scientists have explored the use of car driving simulators as tools for training and testing drivers to reduce road traffic accidents and fatalities.

Each year, 24,000 people are killed or seriously injured on roads in Great Britain. This, in particular, highlights the need for more successful techniques around the world in order to help drivers cope with hazardous situations.

In this latest study, the researchers looked a bit closer at diving simulators.

"Comparisons of brain activity in real-world versus synthetic environments are important because they allow us to better understand the relationship between synthetic environments and training transfer," said Annalise Whittaker, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This particular piece of research will inform simulator training developments for all military land, air and maritime vehicle operators while also providing useful outcomes for civilian driver safety."

In this case, participants drove a 12-mile loop of Nottingham in an instrumented on-road car. This route was also programmed into a high fidelity motion based simulator. Both environments recorded eye movements and driving behaviors such as speed. The scientists also recorded brain activity with functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which uses light to measure changes in blood concentration in the prefrontal cortex.

"This project showcases the way in which psychological research can be at the cutting edge of both neuroscience and road safety," said Chapman, one of the researchers. "It will enable us to understand whether behaviors such as eye movements, brain activity and driving related activities, for instance speed, are the same in a simulator as when driving an identical route in a car."

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