Virtual research

Senior mechanical engineering major student Kyle Losik rides UI’s new ATV simulator recently inside the Center for Computer-Aided Design. Photo by Josh O’Leary.

One minute Kyle Losik was zipping along a sunny, dirt-packed mountain trail. The next he was back inside the University of Iowa’s Center for Computer-Aided Design, catching his breath and regaining his bearings.

Losik had spent the past half hour guiding his all-terrain vehicle down the computer-simulated track he designed for the Oculus Rift. Wearing the virtual reality headset while sitting atop an actual four wheeler mounted to moving platform, the ride along the digital mountainside was as exhausting as any real-world trek.

“The whole thing is rotating and pitching and rolling,” said Losik, a senior mechanical engineering major, who was wearing a bodysuit covered in sensors. “And you have to move your body around so you don’t fall off it.”

Losik is part of a medical and engineering team that created the first-of-its-kind simulator, which will further UI’s ongoing inquiries into ATV safety. On average, there are more than 800 ATV-related deaths a year in the U.S., 150 of which involve children. Researchers in the UI-based Iowa ATV Injury Prevention Task Force hope the VR simulator sheds new light on how riders can lose control of the vehicles and what can be done to prevent accidents.

Dr. Gerene Denning, 74BA, 89PhD, research director in the Department of Emergency Medicine, said the simulator will allow for new studies not previously possible because of the risks involved. While it’s too dangerous to send a subject speeding down a mountainside at 40 mph, for instance, such extreme scenarios can now be simulated in a safe and controlled setting.

The researchers plan to enlist a range of volunteers to strap on the Oculus Rift—experienced versus inexperienced riders, or children versus adults—to study how they respond to various situations and conditions. The simulator could also be used to train law enforcement, military, or emergency workers who use ATVs during rescue events.

– Josh O’Leary, Iowa Alumni Magazine

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