USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Site Notification

Site Notification

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Winter 2022

Winter 2022
Issue No:
Vol. 85 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Hot Topic

Bringing Human Factors Research Into the Next Era

by Jesse Eisert and Michelle Arnold

The Human Factors team is in the process of expanding its research capabilities and tools in an effort to ensure that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) remains on the cutting edge of research. This expansion will be achieved via four unique mechanisms: the Highway Driving Simulator (HDS) Virtual System Upgrade, the Virtual Reality (VR) Lab Upgrade, the HDS and CARMA℠ Integration, and the development of Connected Simulation.

"Aerial view of the Highway Driving Simulator. Photo Source: FHWA."
Current model of the Highway Driving Simulator.

The mission of the Human Factors team is to further the understanding of highway user needs so that those needs can be incorporated into roadway design, construction, repair, and improvement. Because the American highway system is constantly evolving, it is imperative that the team’s research tools evolve so that the team can accurately study this system.

HDS Virtual System Upgrade 

Currently, the Human Factors teams’ HDS is running on seven-year-old software and hardware—a lifetime in technology years. One of the most important upgrades being made to the HDS is the installation of 4k projectors. These new projectors and visual system upgrades will help keep the HDS at the front of cutting-edge research by improving its overall immersion, scenario realism, and its accuracy surrounding real-world simulations. These new upgrades will also meet the requirements of modern and developing automated system technologies.

HDS and CARMA Integration 

Another upgrade in development is the integration of the HDS into the CARMA platform. By merging the HDS with the capabilities of the CARMA platform, the Human Factors team anticipates new, game-changing potentialities. This incorporation will provide opportunities for the Human Factors team’s HDS studies to utilize real-world automated vehicle models, to combine on-road and simulation-based testing of various scenarios, and to study the requirements for new automated systems.

For more information about CARMA, please visit

VR Laboratory Upgrade 

The first considerable modification in renovating the Human Factors teams’ VR Lab is its relocation to a larger area that allows for more space for virtual simulation—physical space is integral to creating authentic, immersive experiences. The Human Factors team is also switching to a next generation VR headset that will allow for eye tracking, increased resolution and frame rate, and mixed reality. And the Human Factors team is working on upgrading some of the lab’s peripherals into an omni-directional treadmill and a VR bike to allow for even more flexibility in scenario and research testing.

HDS and VR Lab Connected Simulations 

Lastly, the Human Factors team is working toward developing a distributed simulation in which the HDS and VR Lab will be integrated into a shared simulation. Although in its early stages, this intriguing technology will allow for the testing of highly complex scenarios with real participants in a safe setting.

"Aerial view of the VR world. Photo Source: FHWA."
Aerial view of the VR world from within the VR Lab.

As FHWA moves into the next decade, the Human Factors team is hard at work to ensure it continues to lead the charge when it comes to understanding how users of our roadways interact with one another. These new research tools and capabilities will help further the Human Factors teams’ knowledge and understanding.

Jesse Eisert leads various human factors research at FHWA including automation and how it interacts with vulnerable road users. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from George Mason University.

Michelle Arnold leads a variety of human factors research and manages the FHWA highway driving simulator laboratory contract. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Western Michigan University.

For more information, see or contact Jesse Eisert, 202-493-3284, or Michelle Arnold, 202-493-3990,