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Evaluation of an assistance system supporting older pedestrians’ road crossing in virtual reality and in a real-world field test

Wiczorek, Rebecca; Protzak, Janna

Older pedestrians are at a high risk of becoming victims of car accidents because they tend not to pay sufficient attention to upcoming traffic. Within our research project, an assistance system for older pedestrians has been developed. It detects the street and communicates with the users through a vibrotactile interface. Two evaluation studies have been carried out in order to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of the developed assistance system. One study was conducted in a virtual environment (VR) with 23 participants, aged 65+. The other experiment was a field test in a real street environment with 26 participants, aged 65+. Objective dependent variables in both experiments were checking for traffic (operationalized via head tracking) and stopping in front of the street (VR study), i.e., approaching time (field test). Workload and acceptance served as subjective dependent variables. Analysis of the VR experiment showed significantly more head rotation with the assistance system than without it, as well as significantly more with cars than without cars. The same was true for the frequency of stopping. No significant difference was found concerning workload. With regard to acceptance, the majority of participants indicated that the system was supportive and able to reduce risks in traffic. In the field test, results for head rotation confirmed the findings of the VR study. Analysis showed a marginally significant higher head rotation frequency with the alarm system than without, and significantly different patterns of checking for traffic at marked and unmarked crossings. However, unlike in the VR study, no differences were found in approaching time with and without the assistance system. Approaching time was slower at marked crossings. No difference was found with regard to workload, meaning the use of the assistance system did not increase the subjectively perceived workload of participants. Analysis of the acceptance questionnaire showed a positive attachment to the assistance system. However, most reported that they did not experience any advantage from the use of the system, and expressed no intention to buy such a system for themselves.
Published in: Frontiers in Psychology, 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.966096, Frontiers