HIKER lab – the largest 4K resolution CAVE-based pedestrian simulation environment in the world.The Highly Immersive Kinematic Experimental Research (HIKER) lab is the largest, VR CAVE based pedestrian simulation environment of its type in the world. The HIKER lab allows participants to interact with a variety of urban environments and vehicles in a 9 x 4 m walking space with a level of real-world performance that is not possible using head-mounted Virtual Reality equipment. The lab allows participants to interact with a variety of urban environments and vehicles. It has been designed to support safe experimental research that can be conducted in a repeatable fashion with a variety of variables with respect to Automated Vehicle (AV) design, warning system design, and intersection configuration, and how people interact with built environments. This research, in turn, allows University of Leeds researchers to contribute to the design of sustainable cities that meet the needs of future populations. Professor Richard Romano, chair in driving simulation at the University, specified the requirements for HIKER based on his department’s particular research needs.
“The primary reason to build the HIKER was to investigate how humans interact with existing traditional vehicles and compare this with automated vehicles,” he began. “The system will also be used to design a range of future transport systems as part of Virtuocity - our centre for city simulation. We have used HMD (Head Mounted Display)-based VR systems in the past to study how pedestrians interact with automated vehicles, but really this was just to prepare us to do the research using the HIKER.”Transport research is very important at the University of Leeds, with its Institute for Transport Studies currently ranked seventh in the world. The Human Factors and Safety group at the Institute focuses on the human-centred design of transport systems using both field research and immersive, human-in-the-loop, simulators.
“Our group has been active in this research field for over 20 years and has helped to design smart motorways, advance driving information systems and intelligent speed assistance, in addition to our research in automated vehicles,” explained Romano. “The HIKER adds to our existing HGV and driving simulators, which we use regularly to support our research.”The HIKER supports a large walking area - 9m x 4m - as well as providing eye-limiting graphical resolution. Its size allows real walking, which improves the transfer of experimental results to the real world. The system allows a variety of research that is not easily supported by an HMD. This includes testing systems such as smartphones, physical barriers, curbs, and pedestrian refuges. In addition, the HIKER makes it easy to evaluate a wider age range of participants and we can more easily introduce multiple participants into an experiment.