Test Tracks & Instrumented Roadways
The HumanFIRST Laboratory makes use of a variety of closed course test tracks and instrumented roadways to conduct human factors research in real-world and semi-real-world settings. The choice of research venue depends on the nature of the research question and road environment requirements.
Closed course tracks
Through collaboration with the Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory, a digital database of the test track roadway and surrounding terrain can be generated and imported into a virtual driving environment. This capability is useful for validating research findings in the driving environment simulators (and vice versa) and for providing real-world context to simulation-based research.
The test tracks identified below have been employed successfully in previous projects by the HumanFIRST Laboratory and remain available for use on future projects.
Minnesota Road Research Facility
The Minnesota Road Research Facility (MnROAD) is owned and operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and is the primary test track facility for the HumanFIRST Laboratory. The test track facility is comprised of a 2.3 mile two-lane highway with two one mile long straight sections and two .15 mile curves (representative of on and off-ramps). Pavement markings, lane dimensions, and signing conform to MUTCD standards.
The test track route has been digitized to support data acquisition based on DGPS. To create realistic driving scenarios, the HumanFIRST Laboratory employs a form of "virtual safety net" using wireless communication between car pairs to automatically trigger prescribed scenarios while protecting safety margins. This facility is secured and includes a garage and workshop as well as office facilities for hosting meetings and conducting research.
Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center
The Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center in St. Cloud is a 160-acre facility containing multiple configurable driving courses. The mission of this facility is to support programs that prevent financial loss and human injuries while advancing safe and efficient operation of the highway transportation system.
This facility is exempt from State of Minnesota DUI and DWI statutes. This unique situation allows the HumanFIRST Laboratory to perform alcohol dosing studies with participants while employing real vehicles (motorcycles, passenger vehicles, and trucks) without risk of arrest or conviction due to DUI or DWI.
Brainerd International Raceway
When research questions require testing at speeds higher than recommended by other test track facilities, the HumanFIRST Laboratory employs the Brainerd International Raceway. This 600-acre facility features a three mile road racing course with ten high and low speed turns, short and long straights, and off-camber turns. The facility also features a nationally recognized one-mile straight section of road commonly employed for drag racing. The HumanFIRST Laboratory has employed this facility to examine the use of head-up displays for law enforcement officers driving at night.
On-road/field operational test facilities
Maximizing ecological validity in human factors transportation safety research can only be achieved by conducting research in naturalistic "real world" situations. Through our close relationship with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and the Minnesota State Patrol, and in accordance with formal assurance procedures implemented by the University for review and approval of research with human subjects, we are able to conduct naturalistic field studies on state, county and local roadways. Many roadways throughout Hennepin County, the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and greater Minnesota have been digitized to support data acquisition based on DGPS. The University provides vehicle and indemnity insurance, and vehicle management is supported by University Fleet Services.
Through collaboration with the Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory, the HumanFIRST Laboratory has access to an instrumented through-stop intersection on a rural four-lane highway in southern Minnesota. This intersection has been digitized and instrumented with sensors (LIDAR, RADAR, Video) on all legs for approximately 1800 meters. These sensors track the dynamic paths of every vehicle entering the intersection and transmit this information in real time to a central data server.
The instrumented intersection permits the integration of driver and vehicle data from specially equipped vehicles (such as the HumanFIRST Laboratory's instrumented passenger automobile) with specific intersection related information (such as traffic flow and conditions, weather, time of day, etc). This intersection supports human factors research on driver behavior, traffic modeling, and ITS applications including infrastructure-vehicle communications.