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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using a driving game to increase the realism of laboratory studies of automobile passenger thermal comfort


The thermal comfort of automobile occupants depends on many complex heat exchanges, and it follows that many comfort research projects are done in laboratories, where conditions can be more readily controlled and the human subjects closely monitored. The laboratory setting, however, may appear unrealistic to a subject because it does not move and it does not afford the experience of driving or being a passenger. This could affect the research results if the test subject’s level of exertion were inappropriate, or if the unrelieved focus on comfort questionnaires caused the subject to be unduly sensitive to his or her thermal comfort. In a recent laboratory study, a computer driving game was used as an inexpensive way to increase the realism for the subjects, and this paper examines the physiological effects of using the game. The metabolic rates of subjects playing or watching the game were found to be very close to their rates when driving or riding in a real car. The method used is new and may be of equal interest for vehicular research: the metabolic rates were estimated from heartbeat data, which can be conveniently obtained from portable and non-intrusive fitness monitors.

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