Under the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute on University Avenue is a world of virtual reality. The DriverLab simulator, which is part of the hospital’s Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL) program, works by replicating some of the common challenges which elderly individuals, as well as those who have disabling injuries and/or illnesses face each day.
From walking on snow and ice to climbing stairs, and driving, the program studies activities in order to determine solutions for helping people in the real world to stay safe in such circumstances.
What Is Being Studied
One main area of interest for the scientists at DriverLab has been the affects of different medications as well as dosages on an individual who is driving. By conducting the simulations it provides them with a way to detect if someone is drowsy driving without the obvious risks that would plague a real test drive. Also utilizing newer safety technology, such as self-driving features, those studying these individuals are doing so in the hope of helping the older population and those with dementia to drive safely longer, maintaining more independence.
Built for about $4-million in 2017, DriverLab includes a large dome inside which sits an Audi A3 vehicle. Also inside the dome is a 360-degree film screen projected to create a realistic environment. Using a hydraulic table and a pivoting turntable, the whole dome is capable of mimicking what it feels like when a driver accelerates or brakes.
In addition to the likeness of these features to the real world, DriverLab also incorporates a rain feature, which produces real rainfall – whether light or heavy – and a set of LED lights that creates a realistic glare from oncoming traffic at nightfall.
Establishing Simulation Studies
While there are a couple of other simulators of the same magnitude, they are commonly owned and operated by car manufacturers in order to optimize the performance of the vehicle – not to improve the ability of the driver.
Despite the newness of the simulator, the lab has already partnered on about a dozen studies. Although the studies are currently ongoing and will likely take a long time to develop, it’s been worth it to get started.
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