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Researchers ride through virtual reality

Cycling enthusiasts who attend the annual Ride to USC Day breakfast on Wednesday 14 October will be able to go for a spin through virtual reality, thanks to a group of USC researchers.

PhD candidate Rafael Upcroft is using a virtual reality bicycle simulator to investigate the impacts of bike path design on cyclists’ physical and cognitive engagement.

Rafael and his supervisors, Professor of Disruptive Technologies Stuart Smith and Professor of Human Factors Paul Salmon, will show off the bike simulator in the USC Gallery Piazza from 8.30am to 10.30am, and media are invited to attend.

Professor Smith said the virtual reality simulator would allow researchers to measure cyclists’ responses to a range of simulated bike path designs in real time.

“Essentially it’s an indoor bike trainer connected to a PC or screen, which creates the impression that you’re riding through a virtual environment,” Professor Smith said. “The combination allows the bike to detect changes in the simulated environment and adjust conditions accordingly.

“So if the screen shows you riding up a hill, you will feel that change in resistance.”

An experienced architect and interior designer, Rafael will use the research findings to develop a set of recommendations for incorporating more engaging design elements into new and retrofitted bike paths.

The researchers also hope that more engaging bike path designs will encourage a larger number of people to cycle, which will eventually contribute to increased health and wellbeing and reduce road congestion.

“We need to encourage people to be more physically active through whatever means possible,” Professor Smith said. “Projects like Rafael’s help us understand how we can design the built environment to facilitate greater engagement in physical activity.”

On Wednesday 14 October, staff and students will cycle to USC’s Sippy Downs campus to celebrate Ride2Work Day, a national initiative that celebrates commuter bike riding and encourages Australians to ride on a daily basis.

Two USC bike trains will travel along designated routes from Coolum and Pelican Waters, picking up additional riders along the way before arriving on campus by 8.25am. Attendees will then enjoy a free breakfast, bike clinic and test rides on the virtual bike simulator.

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— Jarna Baudinette

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