USING A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT TO EVALUATE PEDESTRIAN STREET CROSSING DECISIONS AT A TRAFFIC ROUNDABOUT
Immersive virtual environments provide an opportunity to study phenomenon that would be difficult, hazardous, or expensive to study in the real world. This work presents the development of and controlled studies in an immersive roundabout virtual environment where pedestrians cross the street in traffic. Assessing their behavior in such controlled simulations can lead to the better design and understanding of such traffic intersections. Our simulation is capable of handling variable amounts of circulating traffic, that is, traffic that does not simply exit at a predetermined exit. We observed the pedestrians’ judgments in complex traffic situations, both with and without the addition of three-dimensional spatialized sound. We also incorporated a simulation of a visual impairment into the traffic simulation. In our case, we built a simulation of age-related macular degeneration designed to assess how normally sighted individual would perform when faced with a complex traffic decision under degraded visual conditions. Our main finding is that gap crossing decisions are generally consistent with similar studies done in the real world. We also find that high amounts of circulating traffic can cause problems for pedestrians making road crossing decisions, and, again consistent with real world work, that visual impairment presents difficulties in making decisions about when to cross the road. Overall, the impact of our work is to show that immersive virtual environments are a valid and appealing tool that for research in this domain.