Visual search skills for hazard perception are critical in many domains. They are used by pilots to maintain situation awareness, by doctors reviewing screen images to diagnose health disorders, and by security screeners inspecting for hazardous materials. They are also critical to a novice driver's ability to detect roadway hazards. For novice drivers, poor visual search skills can increase the risk for traffic fatalities, which are the leading cause of death for teenagers nationwide.

Virtual reality can be used to provide visual search training during driver education. However, the success of these training programs depends on the validity of eye-scanning patterns in the virtual environment and on the simulation parameters employed to elicit those patterns. The overall objective of the research is to assess the validity of search patterns in the virtual world as they apply to the physical realm, and then to identify which simulation parameters are critical for successful simulator-based hazard perception training.

Intellectual merit: The project will integrate theory and data to advance our knowledge of which parameters of virtual reality-based hazard perception training promote the greatest transfer of training to real world driving. Specifically, the project will (a) examine the relationship between visual search in driving simulators vs. that in the real world, using specially equipped vehicles; (b) test which aspects of the driving simulator lead to the best training and transfer of learning; and (c) examine how age and experience influence hazard perception skills.

Broader impacts: The findings from the project will advance scientific understanding of how virtual reality training simulations can be used to improve driver education, thereby leading to better drivers and fewer traffic accidents. The results will also be applicable to other areas in which virtual reality training can be valuable, such as medical diagnosis and security screening. In addition, the project will enable a number of disadvantaged students to take part in engineering and technology research and includes a high school outreach component to engage students in research at an early age.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Program Officer
William Bainbridge
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Montana State University
United States
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