ATV simulator drives research on accidents


To learn how and why people lose control while driving all-terrain vehicles—and possibly to train emergency responders using them for rescue missions—the University of Iowa has unveiled a new ATV virtual reality simulator.

Across the country, there were an estimated 93,700 ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries in 2014, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. An estimated 26 percent of these accidents involved children younger than 16 years of age. In Iowa, more than 200 ATV-related crashes occur every year, injuring and sometimes killing riders and passengers.

Charles Jennissen, MD (’89 R), UI clinical professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine, says the university’s new ATV simulator will help researchers learn more about what causes ATV crashes and how they can be avoided. Developed in collaboration with researchers at the UI College of Engineering’s Center for Computer-Aided Design, the simulator features an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, a special suit with 17 motion sensors, and a motion platform to help simulate changes in terrain.

Charles Jennissen

“We’ve had a more basic ATV simulator, but this version is more sophisticated,” says Jennissen, a member of the UI Children’s Hospital ATV Safety Task Force. “Now we have virtual reality goggles, so the screen reflects the movements of the platform. As you turn the steering wheel, you also turn in the virtual reality environment, which makes the experience feel more realistic for research subjects.”

Jennissen says tracking movement is especially important on an ATV, which requires drivers to use their bodies to maintain control of the vehicle and to navigate obstacles such as hills and rough terrain. The new simulator will provide a controlled, safe environment where researchers can test different types of drivers, such as experienced vs. inexperienced drivers and children vs. adult drivers.