Modelling visual-vestibular integration and behavioural adaptation in the driving simulator

Gustav Markkula, Richard Romano, Rachel Waldram, Oscar Giles, Callum Mole, Richard Wilkie

It is well established that not only vision but also other sensory modalities affect drivers' control of their vehicles, and that drivers adapt over time to persistent changes in sensory cues (for example in driving simulators), but the mechanisms underlying these behavioural phenomena are poorly understood. Here, we consider the existing literature on how driver steering in slalom tasks is affected by the down-scaling of vestibular cues, and propose a driver model that can explain the empirically observed effects, namely: decreased task performance and increased steering effort during initial exposure, followed by a partial reversal of these effects as task exposure is prolonged. Unexpectedly, the model also reproduced another empirical finding: a local optimum for motion down-scaling, where path-tracking is better than when one-to-one motion cues are available. Overall, the results imply that: (1) drivers make direct use of vestibular information as part of determining appropriate steering, and (2) motion down-scaling causes a yaw rate underestimation phenomenon, where drivers behave as if the simulated vehicle is rotating more slowly than it is. However, (3) in the slalom task, a certain degree of such yaw rate underestimation is beneficial to path tracking performance. Furthermore, (4) behavioural adaptation, as empirically observed in slalom tasks, may occur due to (a) down-weighting of vestibular cues, and/or (b) increased sensitivity to control errors, in determining when to adjust steering and by how much, but (c) seemingly not in the form of a full compensatory rescaling of the received vestibular input. The analyses presented here provide new insights and hypotheses about simulator driving, and the developed models can be used to support research on multisensory integration and behavioural adaptation in both driving and other task domains.

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