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Beckman researchers to study motorist safety with GM grant

Sharita Forrest, News Editor
(217) 244-1072;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is teaming with General Motors Research & Development and Planning of Warren, Mich., to study driver distractions and how well humans interact with in-vehicle technologies.

GM will spend more than $1.6 million on an aggressive three-year research project so that the Beckman human perception and performance research group can examine ways for educating drivers on managing distractions while driving. Researchers are expected to evaluate how well prepared drivers are to cope with distractions, as well as the dynamics of how effectively humans interact with the mechanics of a vehicle.

Researchers will study programs aimed at modifying driver behavior to reduce distracting activities, especially under adverse conditions. They will also evaluate the efficacy of training strategies for enhancing drivers’ cognitive, perceptual and motor skills, especially those of older adults and inexperienced drivers who may have difficulty with those skills.

"The research will lead to a better understanding about how drivers interact with their vehicles," said Arthur F. Kramer, the head of the human perception and performance research group at the Beckman Institute. "There is also the possibility that some of the research will result in new technological innovations."

As part of the joint initiative, Henry Kaczmarski, the director of the Integrated Systems Laboratory at Beckman Institute, and his engineering staff also will upgrade the UI's driving simulator with state-of-the-art technology such as visuals and a motion base to create a true-to-life driving environment for the studies. The researchers also will look at driver states and develop computational modeling of driver workload.

GM selected the UI and the Beckman Institute based upon their outstanding researchers and advanced technologies, according to James Rillings, research fellow, General Motors Research and Development.

"We were simply looking for one of the best places in the world to do this kind of work," Rillings said. "It was clear Beckman was one of those places, particularly with the experience that Art Kramer, Chris Wickens and others have in cognitive human factors."

The research projects will run through 2004.

Founded in 1985, the Beckman Institute is an inter- and multi-disciplinary research center encompassing the physical sciences, computation, engineering, biology, behavior and cognition. The institute is named in honor of UI alumnus Arnold O. Beckman, the founder of Beckman Instruments Inc. and a pioneer in scientific instrumentation technology.

General Motors, the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, designs, builds and markets cars and trucks worldwide. In 2001, GM earned $1.5 billion on sales of $177.3 billion, excluding special items. It employs about 362,000 people globally.