NC State researchers use simulator to make roads safer


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Distracted driving is a major problem in the nation, ranging from what’s on the radio to making calls and texting while behind the wheel. And experts say it is only going to get worse.

Research going on at N.C. State University could be key to keeping you and your family safe from distracted driving.

The University announced it is the first in the country to test a unique car simulator that features future technology distraction, something seen in only a handful of labs worldwide.

The system gives a realistic feeling for how quickly a driver could get distracted through various prompts.

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“It feels really good and I’m really impressed,” detailed Jing Feng, an associate professor of psychology at N.C. State who is working on this study. 

The lifelike project helps researchers navigate through the future when businesses could use digital advertisements that pop up on your GPS screens or other vehicle monitors, instead of on highway billboards.

“It doesn’t necessarily have a major impact on driver performance such as lane keeping or speed control, but we have noticed there’s a greater fixation frequency off road,” explained David Kaber, a researcher and professor with N.C. State’s Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering.

What makes N.C. State’s study unique is the technology driving the simulator.

The screens are mounted to the simulator’s moving platform, giving the person behind the wheel a 315 degree view.

The car is also interactive with gear shifts, brakes, a steering wheel, and all the bells and whistles of a modern day vehicle.

“We have to understand the human factors to promote safe driving and good interaction with upcoming technology and to make the best use of this technology,” said Feng.

To do this, N.C State has partnered with many agencies, including the state’s department of transportation and the Institute for Transportation Research & Education, all of which fund the study.

Together, these agencies and researchers, plus N.C. State’s PhD and master’s students hope to prevent distracted driving by looking beyond what’s happening on North Carolina roads now and prepare for what could happen tomorrow.

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