If you want to study risky behaviors among pedestrians and bicyclists you could always just go out and observe them. Or you could build a $356,337 virtual reality facility National Science Foundation to study the simulated actions of pedestrians and bicyclists.
The University of Iowa has opted for the latter and the National Science Foundation has agreed to hand over a chunk of your hard-earned cash to pay for it. The grant announcement reads (h/t CNSNews):
This project will create a simulation facility that will advance a capability to study the social interactions of two children, or a child and parent, as the two people walk or bicycle across a traffic-filled roadway.
[It will’ expand existing infrastructure to build a new simulator that matches a recently installed simulator at the same institution, which will permit each of two experimental participants to inhabit their own separate simulated environment.
[Both stimulators will be connected by a] high-speed network and programmed to share a single, virtual environment that can be configured for either bicycling or walking.
Experimental participants will control their motion by actually walking or cycling across these virtual intersections, surrounded by graphically rendered images that show a real-time, first-person view of their motion through the environment.
It all sounds very cutting-edge and very promising. It also sounds just a little bit wrong-headed, spending money on futuristic research, no matter how well-intended, at a time when the administration is demanding another debt ceiling raise and benefits to military veterans are being slashed.
As for the study, it calls to mind the old joke where a man seated on a park bench glimpses an angelic-looking baby in a stroller. “What a gorgeous child,” he says to the mother. “You should see his pictures,” she replies.