Release Date: March 12, 2008
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- From designing safer intersections to helping vehicular accident victims overcome their fears, a new driving simulation laboratory is now open for business in the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The state-of-the-art facility, housed in UB's New York State Center for Industrial Design and Innovation (NYSCEDII), will be available for use by students, faculty and industry to conduct research on automotive and flight vehicles, driver behavior, acclimation of accident victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and even supplemental training of young drivers.
"This is one of a handful of motion simulator facilities in the U.S. and the only one within the State University of New York System," said Kemper Lewis, Ph.D., executive director of NYSCEDII and professor in the school's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. Its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is the only comprehensive engineering school in the SUNY system.
The simulator provides companies involved in transportation or motion control with an unprecedented opportunity to conduct realistic simulations without the expense of full-scale prototypes, said Lewis.
Funded by a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the simulator also has made it possible for UB to offer for the first time a unique course on road-vehicle dynamics. The course has generated so much enthusiasm on campus that it was overenrolled last fall; a second semester is being taught this spring and the course will be offered again next fall.
"The true power of our simulation facility is its ability to test a wide variety of roadway scenarios," said Kevin Hulme, Ph.D., NYSCEDII research associate. "The marriage of large-screen visualization and six-degree-of-freedom motion cueing provides an efficient mechanism to conduct road-vehicle test studies, with a specific interest in improving transportation planning and roadway safety."
Hulme added that the motion simulator facility also fills an important research need at UB as faculty in engineering, medicine, architecture and planning and the social sciences embark on new areas of research and education on transportation outlined by the UB 2020 strategic strength in Information and Computing Technology.
The UB simulator consists of a "car" mounted on a six-degree-of-freedom motion base, donated by Moog Inc. that simulates realistically the sensations of turning, braking and traveling up or downhill. The cabin is outfitted with high-performance simulation controls, such as a steering wheel and accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, all of which combine to make the experience extremely authentic, according to NYSCEDII researchers. While the platform is moving, a 10-foot-by-8-foot display screen shows visualizations that simulate the "ride" the motion base passengers experience.
Students in the road-vehicle dynamics course can use the simulator to realistically explore how design issues impact the physics and mechanics of vehicles.
"The experience demonstrates to students that they have to optimize the vehicle's design parameters in order to attain maximum performance," said Hulme. "It's one of very few classes offered anywhere in the U.S. that brings the core mathematic and scientific knowledge, such as center of gravity, momentum and inertia in physics, to connect with the dynamics of the moving vehicle."
The course is taught by Edward Kasprzak, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and vehicle dynamics research associate at Milliken Asssociates, who is collaborating with NYSCEDII on the NSF grant.
A primary goal of the new facility is to expose students, researchers and members of industry to this critical tool to advance the design and engineering of safer roadways.
For example, Hulme noted, roundabouts, also known as traffic circles, are becoming more common in the U.S. in an effort to reduce fatalities at intersections.
"A lot of fatal accidents take place at intersections," he said. "With our motion simulator, we can take a standard four-way intersection, press a button and the system graphically and physically simulates how traffic would change if it were a roundabout."
NYSCEDII researchers are developing a suite of visualizations that will allow users to simulate a variety of traffic conditions, such as inclement weather, nighttime driving, even motorcycle studies.
The simulator also would be ideal for training or testing new drivers, Hulme said, suggesting that it might be useful in supplementing the driver training programs offered by local driving clubs.