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Center for Transportation Studies

Programs & Labs

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Spring 2003

New system helps capture the driving experience

Photo of electrodes

Electrodes attached to a test subject in the driving simulator.

Photo of monitor

Viewing data collected on muscle and brain activity, heart rate, and eye movement.

For human factors researchers, one of the most significant challenges in working with human test subjects is obtaining reliable data about the subjects' experience during the test. Post-test questionnaires and interviews are commonly used to obtain these data, but such tools are limited in that they require test subjects to remember and report their thoughts and reactions after the test is over.

The HumanFIRST Program has recently purchased specialized equipment to enable researchers to monitor subjects' psycho-physiological reactions in real time during in-vehicle testing. The portable system can be used both in vehicle simulators and on the road while driving. Using small electrodes attached to the test subject, the system collects data on muscle (EMG) and brain (EEG) activity, as well as heart rate (EKG) and eye movement (EOG).

The expertise required to operate the system has been developed through partnerships with Professor Christopher Patrick of the University of Minnesota's Department of Psychology and visiting scientist Dr. Dick de Waard from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Initial uses for the system will include investigation of alcohol impairment of driver cognitive and emotional performance in a simulated environment. Future projects include using psycho-physiological data to measure mental effort and stress related to distraction, fatigue, and other performance impairments.