Iowa Mini Driving Simulator Offers Researchers Big Options in Small Format

Monday, April 12, 2010

University of Iowa News Release

The National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), located at the University of Iowa Research Park, houses the world’s highest fidelity research driving simulator, the NADS-1.

But driving simulation needs come in various shapes and sizes, and not all research applications require the full motion and immersive 360-degree visual environment provided by the NADS-1. Furthermore, the research often needs to be conducted at specific sites around the country.

minisimSo, for the many projects that require a portable driving simulator, NADS researchers have developed the NADS MiniSim Driving Simulator. Andrew Veit, MiniSim program manager, said that the MiniSim has some of the same capabilities as its larger sibling and its flexible design and low cost bring driving simulation technology to new areas of application. The PC-based system can be configured many ways, from a simple desktop system to more complex configurations with multiple displays and a variety of vehicle and truck cabs. In addition, driving scenarios developed on the MiniSim will run on the larger NADS simulators.

"The NADS MiniSim is a portable, high-performance driving simulator designed for research, development, clinical and training applications," said Veit. "The MiniSim harnesses the software technology found in the world’s most advanced driving simulator and packages it in a small, low-cost footprint. A human factors research lab can use the simulator to study human-machine interfaces in Washington, while a clinical lab can use the simulator to assess the performance of impaired drivers in Connecticut, and a community college can use the simulator to teach people how to drive heavy trucks. Civil engineers can drive a complex new highway interchange while it is still on the drawing board.

"We want to build a community of researchers and MiniSim users, and we want to keep the technology affordable. We want to make it easy for researchers to share ideas and information," Veit added. The new MiniSim Community Web site provides a forum where users can connect, ask questions, exchange ideas, pursue collaborative research, and obtain the latest software updates.

At no cost, academic institutions and researchers receive the real-time simulation software and related off-line tools, such as the integrated scenario authoring tool (ISAT) scenario editor. These are the same tools that are used with the larger NADS simulators, assuring that they are kept on the leading-edge as research requirements evolve. In addition, scenarios are compatible across all the NADS platforms: NADS-1; the static, medium-fidelity NADS-2; and the MiniSim. Software support, updates and enhanced access to the community Web site costs $6,000 per year. The MiniSim hardware (either a desktop or quarter-cab configurations, depending upon researcher preference), installation and training are provided at cost.

The versatility of the MiniSim is underscored by the variety of MiniSim projects currently underway. These include:

--United Tribes Technical College of Bismarck, N.D., is using a heavy-truck version of the MiniSim to train and educate prospective semi trailer truck drivers.

--The University of Washington’s Human Factors and Statistical Modeling Lab plans to use the MiniSim to study patients with traumatic brain injury. Their MiniSim will also be used to investigate adaptive cruise control and driver distraction.

--Michigan Technological University of Houghton, Mich., plans to use the MiniSim to study driver responses to vehicle crash events.

--Hartford Hospital Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., where Dr. Beth Anderson is using the MiniSim to examine neural activity during simulated driving. "The MiniSim provides a realistic driving experience while allowing us to easily create multiple driving scenarios. The MiniSim creators have been a great asset in the development and analysis of our driving protocols," she said.

--A locally-based multi-national company has contracted NADS to provide safety-awareness training for their employees. NADS has developed the training program and built a training center with three desktop MiniSims for personnel training.

--The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is using the MiniSim to collaborate with NADS on scenarios and experiments that are being developed for NHTSA-sponsored projects carried out on the NADS-1 and NADS-2 simulators.

--The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) has sponsored development of a software tool to allow conversion of engineering design data into accurate virtual environments for the MiniSim. IDOT has also sponsored modeling two J-turn intersections for community outreach and education using the MiniSim.

Those six MiniSim projects totaled $340,000 in cost.

In each case, the researcher benefits from having a portable, desktop or vehicle cab-based driving simulator that borrows many of the capabilities pioneered by the far larger NADS-1.

"NADS staff developed the real-time software and visual environments that run on the renowned NADS-1 and NADS-2 simulators. A desktop driving simulator was conceived to shorten project development time, and it was quickly realized that the new 'MiniSim' would be an excellent low-cost research tool. The cab and display system for the quarter-cab version was engineered by NADS staff. The cab features a real vehicle steering wheel, seat, and pedals, LCD instrument cluster, and active steering loader, Veit said."

The potential list of applications for MiniSim technology continues to grow.

"There are many inquiries for the MiniSim that we have been actively responding to," said Veit. These include:

--Human Factors. Applications include driver distraction and the development of alerts and warnings for active vehicle safety systems.
--Product Development. Both vehicle OEMS and manufacturers of consumer electronics have inquired about using the MiniSim to provide a cognitive loading driving task for the quick evaluation of product interfaces.
--Training. Applications range from driver education and training for licensing (some overseas), to teen driver awareness and heavy-truck driver training.
--Vision Testing. We have experience using driving simulators as a platform for evaluating driver vision and have proposed custom simulators utilizing the MiniSim for this purpose.
--Visualization. The MiniSim is an ideal platform to experience a roadway project that is in the planning and development stages. It can also be used for outreach to educate local residents on the proposed project and its implications.
--Outreach. Public interest groups have contacted us about using the MiniSim to highlight the risks associated with impairment while driving, including driving while texting.

Added Veit: "The goal for us is to build a vibrant community of MiniSim users, and our mission is to serve them and to make driving simulation accessible to as many people as possible."

Learn more about the NADS and MiniSim at:
http://www.nads-sc.uiowa.edu/MiniSim.

Check out the MiniSim video:
http://www.nads-sc.uiowa.edu/wmv/minisim_short.wmv.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Andrew Veit, MiniSim Program Manager, 319-335-4361, aveit@nads-sc.uiowa.edu; Gary Galluzzo, writer, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu