Lee Receives $900,000 Federal Contract

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Automotive researchers have long known that testing the design of a proposed new car in a driving simulator before constructing a prototype can save time and money.

So it may come as no surprise that a University of Iowa College of Engineering researcher has received a $900,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to make driving simulators more useful to highway designers who want to build safer roadways.

John Lee, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, said that driving simulators can be used to anticipate when new highways and modifications to existing roadway infrastructure have the potential to conflict with drivers' expectations and capabilities.

"Tight turns, short merges, and misplaced signs can all contribute to congestion and crashes," said Lee. "Unfortunately fixing these problems after the concrete has been poured is extremely expensive. Driving simulators can help highway designers avoid these problems."

Making driving simulators more useful for highway designers requires a systematic approach to the design issues that highway engineers face, said Lee, who will work with colleagues from Montana State University and Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, at the UI's National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), where he is director of human factors research.

"Our approach begins with the design issues, relates simulator capabilities to these issues, and recognizes that simulator choice depends on the operational and budgetary demands of the engineering context," Lee said. "The highest fidelity simulator may not always be practical, and engineers need tools that are adequate yet appropriate for any given task. This project will produce a set of tools that aid highway engineers in matching a simulator to a particular design issue."

If successful, the project may lead to more productive driving simulator experiments and more effective roadway infrastructure investments.

"The Iowa team will make simulators more practical and useful for highway designers." Lee said. "This understanding will also identify and support a range of simulator applications, including training, vehicle safety system design, and vehicle and driver assessment. More generally, the model-based transformations that reconcile simulator data will provide deep insights into the perceptual and motor control processes that govern driving performance."

The UI project is scheduled to run through June of 2011.

NADS, located at the UI Research Park, is the most sophisticated research-driving simulator in the world. Developed by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, it offers the highest fidelity real-time driving simulation experience.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu