Driver Rehabilitation using Motion-Based Simulator

When an individual loses the ability to safely and independently operate a motor vehicle, such as with aging or after a stroke or traumatic brain injury, their level of social, leisure, and economic activity can be limited, almost as much as had they lost the ability to walk.

Simulated driving is a common part of driver rehabilitation therapy, which aims to get these individuals safely back on the road by assessing their likelihood of recovery and providing training with a driving rehabilitation specialist. Yet recent advances in haptics have yet to be applied to the simulators used in this clinical setting. Most driving simulators used for rehabilitation are “fixed-base”, which means the patient’s seat remains stationary during the simulation. Thus, patients’ perception of vehicle motion is limited to visual interaction with the driving environment. In contrast, “motion-base” simulators move the patient’s body, emulating the vestibular and somatosensory experience of driving.

By more faithfully emulating the multisensory experience of on-road driving, simulator training with motion feedback is expected to reduce the cognitive demand of vehicle control so that patients can apply their limited cognitive resources to more complex driving tasks, such as changing lanes, navigating traffic, and planning their route home.

Currently, 6 degree of freedom (6DoF) motion-base simulators provide the most realistic motion feedback. They are primarily used for automotive research, such as evaluating driver behavior in semi-autonomous vehicles. Because these simulators cost upwards of $10 Million, they are infeasible for clinical use.

It is exciting to see that today there is a growing market for 2DoF consumer motion-base simulators that cost much less than these prohibitively expensive 6DoF simulators. Our research aims to determine whether these economical simulators have potential to be integrated into clinical practice. This could reduce the cost of driver rehabilitation therapy by substituting a more substantive portion of the on-road driving, prescribed by the patients’ therapist, with simulator-based training. Access to effective simulator training could also empower new populations to benefit from driver rehabilitation by serving as a bridge that prepares them for on-road training.

Publications:

Hohorst, W. H., Kinder, C. M., Lodha, N., & Smith, B. W. (2019). Is simulator-based driver rehabilitation missing motion feedback? IEEE International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics. Podium presentation.