Dr Michael Mortimer

Hector VR driving simulator

Industry Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Deakin University; PhD (Electronics), Deakin University

Driving is the key to independence for many older people and is considered essential for completing daily tasks such as shopping, attending medical appointments and engaging in social or community activities.

This is especially true for those who live in rural communities or other areas where public and private transport options are limited.

However, research consistently highlights that the older driver population is at increased risk of accidents. Several factors are likely to contribute to this, including age-related changes in sensory and perceptual processing, attention, and cognitive ability.

There is a need to strike a balance between individual drivers’ independence and broader considerations of general road safety.

Deakin University, in collaboration with McLean Care, has developed Hector VR, a virtual reality (VR) driving simulator for older drivers that helps them make informed decisions about relinquishing their licence.

Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Michael Mortimer led development and undertook user evaluations.

Hector VR allows older drivers to experience “virtual” driving scenarios using VR technology. Users may choose to practise driving, test their relative driving skills to see if they would pass some of the elements of a “real life” driving test or simply enjoy spending time exploring the created virtual world.

Hector VR allows older drivers to experience “virtual” driving scenarios using VR technology.

The simulator, which is mobile, replicable and able to be accessed anywhere that is out of the weather and with access to power, is designed to monitor and record driver performance information using a series of health and performance metrics during virtual driving experiences.

It combines the cut-down shell of a physical vehicle with a VR headset and was developed using an action research and co-design methodology in which feedback at each stage was used to inform the development.

Judges’ comments:

“The innovation is in applying virtual reality in this context. The applicants are to be commended for their co-design methodology for managing the project. The applicant has identified an area with significant potential community benefit; the engagement of older citizens with their community is a public health issue, and their safe use of the roads also has community consequence.

“The team has demonstrated strong project management approaches, particularly in viewing the participants as partners in the development of the project.”

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