Experiments on the Go
The fleet of buses that carry Idaho National Laboratory employees from Idaho Falls to INL’s desert site travel 2.7 million miles every year.
To help INL study bus-related issues such as efficiency, safety and communication systems, manufacturer Motor Coach Industries supplied the lab with a 6,000-pound bus chassis, and INL and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies provided simulation equipment to transform the chassis into an immersive bus simulator.
And to help build a top-of-the line simulator, INL turned to University of Idaho graduate student interns trained in the latest technology in the UI Department of Psychology’s human factors program.
Zach Spielman and Jordan Holmberg began setting up the simulator in June at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, or CAES – a collaborative partnership among UI, INL, Boise State University, University of Wyoming and Idaho State University. Spielman and Holmberg studied the best ways to design the simulated bus to give drivers a realistic experience, record accurate data and answer the questions INL and Motor Coach Industries needed to answer.
Encouraging Efficient Driving
One of the project’s first goals is to study how to help drivers adjust their behavior to increase fuel efficiency.
“One of the greatest sources of variability in fuel efficiency is the driver,” explains Dave Gertman, the UI students’ mentor and lead investigator for the INL transportation research simulator. “The studies we’ve done indicate we can prompt people to be more efficient by employing predictive displays.”
Spielman, who will continue his internship at INL through May, is now working with INL researchers to connect with government partners and industry leaders who can benefit from the simulator’s capabilities.
“It goes beyond buses. The idea extends out really to any heavy vehicle,” Spielman says. “Our pitch here is there’s a lot of research that employs commuter-size cars, but not much has gone forth in the way of heavy vehicle research. This could be motor coaches, snowplows and long-haul trucking fleets as well. We hope to apply to all of that.”
From the Lab to Industry
Spielman says working on the INL simulator has helped him learn not only how human factors research contributes to industry needs, but also how to develop relationships with public and private partners and present his work to a diverse audience.
“Learning how to do work efficiently in a real-life setting was a huge learning experience, and a fantastic one,” he says.
Gertman says having UI students involved in the laboratory-directed research and development side of the simulator project worked so well, INL wanted to continue the partnership.
“The students that we’ve had from UI in particular are highly motivated and skilled in research, so from a laboratory perspective it’s a way to get access to people whose training and research skills are valuable and very current,” he says.
“Industry and the state of Idaho are starting to look to INL as a regional transportation test range where they can bring systems and concepts to be tested by engineers and scientists. And with these systems we always have humans in the loop, so human factors expertise is always needed.”