Virginia Tech advancing autonomous car research with new simulator

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Car manufacturers are putting self driving cars to the test. Before they're widely produced, researchers at Virginia Tech are using simulators to help them understand the real relationship between machine and man.

A car on the fourth floor of Goodwin Hall at Virginia Tech is built for a virtual reality where driver's actions and reactions are measured, cars easily switch between autonomous and manual, and sensors help them go.

"We are capable of evaluating those scenarios in a safe environment and introduce different stimuli, different hazardous situations to the driver and evaluate their performance and then come up with safer systems in vehicle systems in the future," said Azim Eskandarian, the department head for Mechanical Engineering.

This is inside the Autonomous Systems and Intelligent Machines lab, complete with a smart car and a 180 degree projection screen where two drivers can interact in the same virtual world.

This researcher is monitoring her physiological state while driving and wearing more than 30 sensors on her head.

"That enables us to evaluate things like human brain signals in response to different stimuli, or the human eye and tracking of the human face during driving," Eskandarian said.

In the same lab a tiny town mirrors a real driving course where self driving robotic cars use GPS and communicate with other vehicles so they can travel through traffic without wrecking.

The lab helps them test real world situations without facing the real safety issues of testing on the street.

These researchers hope their work will enhance the safety for all car manufacturers and transportation engineers.