UI researchers use SIREN driving simulator to study driving risk factors

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Surrounded by projection screens, a blue Saturn sits in a basement room in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. If you look very closely, you can see several tiny video cameras inside the car, and a glance under the hood gives a whole new meaning to the term "souped-up."

In the space where the engine normally resides sits an array of electronic instrumentation that turns this ordinary vehicle into a high-fidelity driving simulator known as SIREN (Simulator for Interdisciplinary Research in Ergonomics and Neuroscience). These instruments allow Matthew Rizzo, M.D., UI professor of neurology, engineering and public policy, and his colleagues, to record and analyze in detail the actions and reactions of the driver. It also allows them to look for scientific answers to the kind of questions that have been circulating in the media recently such as when and how do age-related deficits make a person an unsafe driver?

"The big issue is whether there is a good way to predict who is likely to be an unsafe driver?" Rizzo said. "It is not feasible for everyone to have their own driving simulator to test patient's driving abilities, but it is feasible to have paper and pencil tests that correlate well with simulation studies and real accident data.

"What we want to develop is a series of a few tests that are simple and reliable and that can be easily administered," Rizzo said.

SIREN, which is uniquely positioned within UI Hospitals and Clinics, may be less well-known than the UI's other driving simulator NADS (National Advanced Driving Simulator), which is located at the Oakdale campus and has the largest motion base of any simulator in the world. However, Rizzo and his many collaborators are extremely busy with projects using SIREN and are very excited about the results their studies are starting to produce.

"We are not interested in studying vehicle dynamics in the way that NADS can," Rizzo said. "Rather, we u

Contact: Jennifer Brown
University of Iowa

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