Can virtual reality make cycling safer?

Meet Mohsen Nazemi, a PhD researcher investigating virtual reality as a new method in transportation engineering, particularly for bicycle research

“I want to ensure safe and comfortable movement of pedestrians and cyclists, to encourage more people to use active and sustainable modes of transport”

The project
“This project investigates if and how virtual reality can be used to understand the behaviour and preferences of cyclists. To achieve that, we simulated different cycling environments and surveyed cyclists’ response to them.” 
Simulating it
“With CityEngine 3D modelling software, we created different virtual cycling environments in a street that looks like Singapore. Using PTV Vissim software, we simulated vehicular, cyclist, and pedestrian flows. PTV Vissim provides realistic simulation of the behaviour of road users and allows the trajectories to be used in other applications.
“We then exported road users’ trajectories to Unity platform, to make the ‘streets’ as realistic as possible. There we created a 360-degree environment with high quality street features and avatars. To complete the picture, we developed a cycling simulator that translates realistic cycling actions such as pedalling, braking, and steering movements in VR.”
Predicting cyclists’ behaviour
“An experiment with 150 participants was conducted to understand cyclists’ perception of safety and the choices they make. The results from the cycling simulator showed that cyclists’ diverse behaviours in virtual reality environments were similar to general cycling behaviour in the real world. In addition, interesting findings were discovered regarding cycling speed, stress level, and bicycle facility preferences in Singapore.” 
Taking it to the next level
“Due to the originality and interactive nature of the experiment, it received a lot of attention from researchers, government agencies, and professionals curious about how transport research can benefit from VR. The results of this study also informed decision-makers about people’s preferences and cycling behaviour to better plan for the future. Given the positive results so far, a cycling simulator combined with immersive virtual reality is seen as a promising avenue to communicate future street designs for surveys and engagement.”
Useful for pedestrians too
“We are keen  to apply a similar approach to study pedestrians’ behaviour. Therefore, we plan to develop an interactive walking simulator using PTV Vissim driving API to capture pedestrian movements.
I am glad that PTV Group is developing the integration of Vissim and Unity. What I am looking for is a function to model the interaction of pedestrians and bicyclists.” 
More about Mohsen:
I am a doctoral researcher of transportation engineering at ETH Zurich, based in the Future Cities Laboratory at Singapore-ETH Centre. I’m fascinated by unpredictable human travel behaviour, and how engineers are trying to model it. I’m excited to do my doctoral research, which involves cycling, road safety, and virtual reality. Since 2016, I have been working with my colleagues Michael van Eggermond, Michael Joos, and Tanvi Maheshwari to develop the virtual reality framework for my research thesis.
Connect with Mohsen on LinkedIn
Get to know the PTV Expert:
Peter Sukenik, PTV Vissim Product Manager at PTV Group
Mohsen’s exciting research shows how PTV Vissim can be used in versatile ways. Vissim was used to generate surrounding traffic, including cars, cyclists and pedestrians.  Virtual reality enables planners to make interaction tests like this one, before applying a measure or a street re-design in the real world. I am looking forward for the results of the planned pedestrian simulator connected to PTV Vissim!

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