Using Virtual Reality to Help Teenagers with Autism Learn to Drive
Vanderbilt University engineers have developed a special adaptive virtual reality driving environment for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. There are a number of off-the-shelf driving simulators available, but none have the capabilities built into the Vanderbilt VR Adaptive Driving Intervention Architecture (VADIA). Not only is it specifically designed to teach adolescents with ASD the basic rules of the road, but VADIA also gathers information about the unique ways that they react to driving situations. This will allow the system to alter driving scenarios with varying degrees of difficulty to provide users with the training they need while keeping them engaged in the process. Ultimately, it may also help screen individuals whose deficits are too severe to drive safely. The research setup consists of an automotive-style bucket seat, steering wheel, brake and gas pedals in front of a large, flat screen display on a height-adjustable table. The black box sitting directly below the screen is an eye-tracker that keeps track of where the driver is looking. Participants don a headset containing electrodes that read the electrical activity of their brain (EEG) and they are hooked up to an array of physiological sensors that record the electrical activity of the driver's muscles (EMG), electrical activity of the heart (ECG), galvanic skin response, blood pressure, skin temperature and respiration. The elaborate monitoring allows the researchers to determine if the driver is engaged or bored by the simulation.