Choose Scale Carefully within Virtual Reality Environments to Allow Testing of Work Zone Environments without Encountering Physical Boundaries.
Researchers in New York City Used Virtual Reality Technology to Assess Worker Safety Systems for Work Zones.
Made Public Date

Work Zone Safety: Behavioral Analysis with Integration of VR and Hardware in the Loop (HIL)


Virtual Reality (VR) technology provides a safe and highly realistic environment for testing behavioral responses to novel technologies, by providing a virtual representation of a real-world environment without endangering the participants. Researchers in New York City used hardware-in-the-loop (HIL), a testing model where physical sensors are connected to a VR system, in conjunction with traffic simulation. The integrated VR interactions with simulated traffic enabled the study of worker behavior in a virtual work zone with dangerous conditions. The worker safety system included hardware to monitor the workers’ location compared to the work zone perimeter and to alert workers of dangerous situations. Five participants engaged with the system in a VR work zone environment to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of the system. Researchers measured the responses to vibration and visual safety alarms and through a post-study survey capturing participants’ perceptions on their experience with VR, sense of control, level of distraction, and sense of realism.

Lessons Learned

  • Configure the VR environment scale to ensure that workers do not need to move beyond the physical test environment perimeter. During initial tests that required workers to place six traffic cones, workers would have to move beyond the physical perimeter to place the cones. VR environments should be rescaled to properly evaluate worker detection applications and to maximize the physical test space.
  • Reduce potential for false alarms by assessing sensor data adequacy. Noisy data from sensors could result in false alarms in detecting worker position relative to the work zone area. By moving multiple ultrasonic sensors to one edge of the perimeter, checking for prolonged presence when distances are short (below 80 centimeters), or adding other sensors such as cameras, potential false positives can be reduced when detecting workers.
  • Consider sensor hardware, cost, and ease of integration with the VR environment when using a HIL approach.  Ultrasonic sensors were used in the virtual environment to enforce a construction work zone perimeter due to low cost, ease of integration, and sufficient distance reading range for the lab environment.