Thursday, November 30, 2017

Great Isenberg Transportation Class Field Trip - Driving Simulator and Human Performance Lab

A few years ago, a student in my Transportation & Logistics class told me that a highlight of his college career was going on field trips in my course. I truly believe that, if at all possible, a course should include such experiences. Scheduling may be an issue, but where there is a will, there should be a way!

Today, the students in  that Isenberg School course of mine had the pleasure of a field trip to the Arbella Insurance Human Performance Lab, which is way across the UMass Amherst campus in Engineering Lab 1. Our wonderful tour guide was Professor Shannon Roberts, who is an MIT and University of Wisconsin alumna, and an expert on human factors.

My students found the lab (one showed up 48 hours early but made it today) and were surprised to see a car inside the lab. I had told them about the great work of the lab, which was established in the 1980s and the long-time Director was Professor Don Fisher. The research of the lab focuses on driver behavior and safety. Its impact has been immensely positive - an example being Distractology 101.

Professor Don Fisher, among his numerous earned accolades, was the first ever (inaugural, that is) speaker in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker series, which we started back in 2004.

Since the students in my class include both Operations and Information Management majors as well as Industrial Engineering majors, the experience was not only educational but also fun. All students (except for one who was worried about getting dizzy) got a chance to drive the simulator or be a passenger, which is a real car, courtesy of Ford (a big shoutout to Kevin Koswick, who is an Isenberg alum, an Exec at Ford, and who was in the first class that I ever taught at UMass Amherst!).
The students also heard from Dr. Roberts of the fascinating ongoing studies, some of which focus on young drivers, since they are especially prone to accidents. She was even throwing out a carrot for students to participate as subjects on the driving simulator. I was surprised that there are only about 20 such systems in the US for research.

Many great questions were asked by my students. With so many dynamic changes in transportation, this field never fails to fascinate! And the research conducted at the Human Performance Lab has relevance to auto companies, insurance companies, various suppliers in the auto global supply chain, as well as departments of transportation, and even driver education operators.

Thanks to Professor Shannon Roberts for sharing her research experiences, including hands-on ones, with my students.