High-tech boost to road safety for seniors

Virtual reality is being used in a unique project to check the driving skills of senior Australians and improve road safety, thanks to federal government funding of $726,000.

Called Hector VR, the Virtual Reality Driving Simulator for Older Drivers targets people between 70 and 80 years of age and is now being trialled in the Inverell district of northern New South Wales.

“This is ground-breaking innovation, to enable senior Australians to live longer, better lives,” Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt said.

“Hector VR supports people to maintain their proficiency on the road and can be used to test driving skills, to help them decide if they should stay behind the wheel.

“The thought of giving up your licence and the extra independence that comes with driving yourself can be daunting for people as they age, particularly for those in rural and regional areas.

“However, we have to make sure it is safe for them to keep driving and this technology will help with that potentially lifesaving decision.”

Developed by aged care provider McLean Care in partnership with Deakin University’s School of Engineering, the trial uses emerging interactive virtual reality, linked with smart sensor technology.

The driving simulator is contained in the shell of a Holden Captiva vehicle, to increase the sense of reality for drivers.

“Sensors are also installed to measure the driver’s reaction times and heart rate to assess their responses to a variety of situations that can arise when driving,” said Member for New England Barnaby Joyce.

“In addition to helping older drivers maintain and test their skills, Hector VR is designed to help those with medical conditions, such as dementia and who can no longer drive, to re-live the driving experience.

“The virtual driving scenarios are modelled on the township of Inverell, including important local buildings, major shopping centres, retail outlets and landmarks, to make the user’s experience as realistic as possible.

“The simulator includes differing road environments and realistic scenarios such as country driving and various levels of traffic.”

Development of the virtual reality driving simulator was funded through the government’s $34 million Dementia and Aged Care Services grants scheme, which is promoting innovation across the country.

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