Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Great Transportation Class Field Trip to the Arbella Human Performance Lab and Driving Simulator

Today the students in my Transportation & Logistics class and I  had the pleasure of taking part in our second field trip of the semester and just in time before they all headed away from campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. Tomorrow UMass Amherst is closed because of the pending snowstorm, which should make for some interesting travel experiences so do be extra cautious!

The field trip was to the Arbella Human Performance Lab in the Engineering 1 building at UMass Amherst, which is way across campus from the Isenberg School of Management. The weather was perfect and the temps in the 60s so we had a pleasant walk.

The Human Performance Lab is directed by Professor Don Fisher, who is also the Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. He has done seminal research on distracted driving and his research team utilizes the latest in eye-tracking technology to study driver's eye movements and the impacts thereof. Dr. Fisher is a psychologist by training and an expert in human factors. He also is a Faculty Fellow at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA. His research has attracted over $10 million in funding including an NSF grant to study driverless cars.

In his lab is a $500,000 black car, which is utilized to do some of the testing and experimentation with the use of human subjects as drivers. It has had about another $500,000 put into it for experiments and upgrades. One of the undergraduates was a willing volunteer. and drove the driving simulator.

It was fascinating to hear Professor Fisher speak about hazard mitigation, the types of conditions that lead to distracted driving from inside the vehicle to outside the vehicle plus the differences between experienced drivers and young inexperienced ones as well as younger vs. older ones.

He showed the famous video of counting basketball passes and then asked how many saw the gorilla in the video. The video demonstrates selective attention.

His research has led to new training programs with great positive effects and even to new signage, flashing yellow lights and pedestrian signs,  removal of parking spots, etc., in Amherst and beyond. His team was even involved in studying the effects of the Big Dig and traveller behavior especially with respect to signs in the tunnel.

I am a huge fan of Professor Fisher's and the important work that he has been doing for decades. He has spoken in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speakers Series (in fact, he was our very first speaker) and last April he received an award from the Phi Kappa Phi Chapter at UMass, which I blogged about. I also had the pleasure of giving the speech at the ceremony.

We all left the lab with valuable information and I am sure that everyone drove more carefully today and will continue to do so.

Many thanks to Professor Fisher, to his lab manager, Tracy, and his research assistant, Akhilesh, for such a great educational experience today.
Happy Thanksgiving to all and safe driving!