DriverLab is the world’s first simulator developed for the assessment of elderly and challenged drivers. It is part of the iDapt facility and Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL), developed by IDT. The purpose of DriverLab is to identify the safety risks associated with varying levels of physical and cognitive function and decline as persons age.
Top-down design process
IDT developed DriverLab through a close collaboration with the customer, UHN. A comprehensive analysis of use cases was first carried out by IDT, identifying the required applications. Not surprisingly, many of the requirements included environmental challenges which, until now, were very challenging to reproduce in a simulated environment. Combining these phenomena within a safe simulator environment posed an even greater challenge.
Creating realistic driving simulation while avoiding simulator-induced sickness is a real challenge. DriverLab needs the ability to simulate driving from door to door, including in cities and on highways. Creating realistic visual cues has become easier these days, with enhanced Computer-Generated Imagery, digital projection systems, and wrap-around optics. However, the greater the visual experience, the deeper the immersion by the subject. Humans expect the body to perceive motions through both visual and non-visual sources. If one of these is missing or is notably different from the mind’s expectation, this can lead to varying levels of unacceptable, or even simulator sickness.
IDT resolved that challenge in DriverLab, by mounting the Audi A4 vehicle on a rotating turntable, positioned directly below the driver’s seat. Secondly, motion cueing algorithms ensure that the combination of the motions through the large 6 DOF hexapod and turntable are co-ordinated and matched with the visual imagery.
As we age, the responsiveness of our eyes starts to decay. The ability of the eyes to accommodate to varying levels of light, particularly after being accustomed to dark environments, can have an impact on acuity and overall response. The term “blinded by the light” becomes most prominent when, for example, driving on a remote Canadian road and to be suddenly exposed to an oncoming truck with bright, powerful headlights.
Creating headlights with high brightness and contrast with geometric spatial accuracy in a simulator had not been achieved before. An innovative approach developed by IDT involved placing a panel of high-intensity LED lamps on a fold-out panel that would conform to the dome shape. The folding mechanism is hidden outside the driver’s field-of-view until an oncoming car is simulated in the scenario. Then, these lights are individually assigned their brightness, creating a powerful effect at the driver’s eyes.
While the simulation of weather effects through computer-generated images is highly powerful, the absence of water droplets on the windshield requires the driver to adjust his/her expectations. However, creating the effect of rain also poses physical and safety challenges as moisture in the proximity of simulation equipment may not be advisable.
IDT came with a solution that works. We developed a rain simulation, utilising specialised nozzles that create either heavy rain or a mist, but which concentrate the spray over a specific area. A system of baffles, invisible to the driver, further prevents the dissipation of water droplets to the electronics equipment in the simulator. The end result is an incredibly convincing immersion. As the weather changes, the driver is subjected to the conditions in the most realistic possible way.
DriverLab is an international platform for defining critical parameters related to driver safety.
The key research goals that will be enabled by DriverLab include:
● Support independent aging by enabling the creation of customized driver licenses. Too many older adults are involved in collisions. DriverLab will help researchers to identify the most dangerous driving conditions, which could be used to inform the creation of customized licenses that would enable older adults to continue driving as long as safely possible.
● Study the effects of medication on driving performance. DriverLab will be used to determine the effect of various drugs, such as opioids, on driving performance.
Watch a video of Dr. Andrea Furlan, Senior Scientist and pain specialist, explain how DriverLab will help us to understand how opioids affect a person’s ability to drive safely.
● Research the implications of drowsy driving. DriverLab will help address the associations between major sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) and driving performance, and develop methods for preventing, detecting and diverting drowsy driving.
● Determine the full effects of automated driving systems. DriverLab will evaluate the impact of modern car safety systems, semi-autonomous vehicle features and driverless cars.
Watch a video of Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE), explain how DriverLab will support the research goals of AGE-WELL as it relates to transportation and new technologies for seniors.
● Reduce driving simulator sickness. DriverLab will help develop optimized driving simulation technologies, for testing centres to use for driver training and testing purposes.