VR simulation to improve road safety for older pedestrians

By on 11 November, 2020

A new research project will use virtual reality to simulate a walkable environment when planning road upgrades.

Data from across OECD countries show that up to 50 percent of pedestrians injured in road accidents are seniors — a vast overrepresentation.

A new research collaboration at the University of South Australia aims to improve design of roadways for pedestrians, with older Australians in mind. The UniSA project will see the creation of a walkable virtual environment to assess road safety from the perspective of older pedestrians, to inform inputs to planners and engineers when designing upgrades for footpaths and roads.

A Road Safety Innovation Fund (RSIF) grant from South Australia’s Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications will kick the interdisciplinary project off, led by Dr. Jun Ahn (Construction Management), Dr. Gun Lee (VR technology) and Dr. Ancret Szpak (Psychology).

Dr. Ahn said that research suggests road intersection design, crossing widths, traffic light locations and timings as well as traffic types and density, all play a part in the overrepresentation of older people in road accidents, a group with distinctly different needs than those of young people.

“Having access to a wide range of data from both virtual and real environments means we can overcome the limitations of previous ways of assessing pedestrian safety,” said Dr. Ahn.

“Through this project we will create a virtual environment to simulate the road environment. We can easily change that virtual model to test the impact that a range of factors, such as intersection designs, crossing widths and traffic signals, have on road safety.”

A pilot study has already been undertaken on Jetty Road at Glenelg. Dr Ahn says he hopes to build on that work through this new project, A State-of-the-Art User Experience (UX) Approach for Assessing Pedestrian Safety Factors through the Experiences of Older People, in line with the City of Holdfast Bay’s long-term plan for renovating the Jetty Road.

Over the course of the three-year study, researchers will compare vulnerable pedestrians’ experiences in real environments with experiences captured in virtual environments.

“Our ultimate ambition is for councils to be able to use this technology to test road designs virtually with vulnerable pedestrians, while still in the planning stages,” Dr Ahn said.

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