UI College of Engineering hopes ATV simulator will make riding safer

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- More than 200 ATV-related accidents happen in the state of Iowa every year, according to the University of Iowa. A team of researchers hopes a new simulator will help them reduce that number, and make ATVs themselves less dangerous.

The simulator makes you see and feel what it's like to ride an all-terrain vehicle, and with it, associate professor Salam Rahmatalla and his team are trying to answer one question:

"How people fall from ATVs when there's an accident or there's a scenario where there's loss of control," Rahmatalla explained.

The short-term goal with this project is to create a lifelike recreation of a joyride on a vehicle that's so commonly used in rural areas across the Midwest. The rider wears a virtual reality headset and a special suit loaded with sensors, while the four-wheeler itself sits atop a moving platform that rolls and pitches with every bump in the virtual environment.

"We tried to put all the instrumentation that we had to make sure we are reflecting what people feel in real life," Rahmatalla told TV9.

Rahmatalla said while this is essentially a "giant video game controller," this simulator serves a more serious purpose: to make ATVs and their users safer.

"The long-term goal is to force regulation," Rahmatalla said.

The data this team is gathering will hopefully give them answers to that question of how people fall from ATVs, and why they lose control. It may even change how these vehicles are built.

"Then we can go to the manufacturers and we can force regulation and say well, when you design a system, you should be careful about how you design these different components."

Rahmatalla said different riders - young and old, experienced and inexperienced - will be brought in to help with their research.