The National Science Foundation has awarded a $356,337 grant to the University of Iowa to use virtual technology to study social influences on risky cycling and pedestrian behavior.
“This project will create a simulation facility that will advance a capability to study the social interactions of two children, or a child and parent, as the two people walk or bicycle across a traffic-filled roadway,” the grant announcement said.
It will “expand existing infrastructure” at the university “to build a new simulator that matches a recently installed simulator at the same institution, which will permit each of two experimental participants to inhabit their own separate simulated environment.”
Both stimulators will be connected by a “high-speed network and programmed to share a single, virtual environment that can be configured for either bicycling or walking.”
“Experimental participants will control their motion by actually walking or cycling across these virtual intersections, surrounded by graphically rendered images that show a real-time, first-person view of their motion through the environment,” the grant said.
Using a “full-body motion tracking system,” avatars will be created to represent the motions of the participants to “provide a realistic experience of walking or riding with a friend or parent.”
“On the computational side, this research will advance the technology for immersive, interactive virtual environments by developing methods to represent full-body movements in avatars moving through large-scale environments, and by studying how the fidelity of avatar movements influences rider and pedestrian interactions,” the grant said.
“On the behavioral side, this research will advance an understanding of social influences on risk taking by studying how children interact with friends or parents in the context of crossing roads, an everyday and yet risky activity,” it added.
Researchers hope the project will contribute “to an understanding of the risk factors for car-bicycle and car-pedestrian collisions.”
“The project will create a foundation for future intervention studies that will help to reduce such collisions,” the grant said.
“Advances in simulation technology, experimental methodology, and methods to create life-like avatars will contribute to the development of virtual environments for use in behavioral research and simulation-based training,” it added.
The results of the research will be presented to the public through “scientific publications and presentations” as well as “open house events and bicycling/pedestrian safety lectures.”
Calls to the principal investigator at the University of Iowa were not returned by press time.
The grant is for a three-year period from Nov. 1, 2013 to Oct. 31, 2016.