Taking a virtual spin on the Big Dig
Web simulation previews changes for Boston drivers
By Elizabeth Luciano,
News Office staff
ervous about negotiating the Big Dig when it
opens early next year? Through the efforts of Mechanical and Industrial
Engineering professor Donald Fisher and his assistants, drivers
can test-drive their routes through Boston before ever pulling out
of the driveway. Using the Web Big Dig Drive, an online, virtual
version of the Big Dig's tunnels and highways, drivers can feel
confident about traveling their new routes when the massive highway
project debuts in early 2003. The effort is a collaboration with
the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Massachusetts Turnpike
The effort is part of Fisher's research
at the Human Performance Laboratory, a facility that includes a
driving simulator in which a sedan is placed before three screens,
onto which highways and neighborhoods are projected. The "car"
reads the driver's speed, direction, and even eye movements as input.
Other research projects at the lab have included determining optimal
signage for the Big Dig; teaching younger drivers to anticipate
dangerous situations on the road; and determining the safety of
voice-activated car phones. This particular project marks the first
collaboration between a driving simulator lab and a major federal
construction project, Fisher said. "Putting a test drive on
the Web makes sense, because it reduces the potential for accidents,"
The Web Big Dig
Drive currently details all of the Central Artery tunnel sections
of Interstate 93 north and southbound, extending 11/2 miles in each
direction. It also details the section of the Massachusetts Turnpike
(Interstate 90) that starts at the Prudential Center and heads eastbound
under Four Point Channel and through South Boston to the portal
of the Ted Williams Tunnel. It will soon detail the section of Interstate
93 that starts south of the Massachusetts Turnpike and also heads
under Four Point Channel to the portal of the Ted Williams Tunnel.
To use the system,
drivers log onto the site (www.ecs.umass.edu/hpl),
click on the Big Dig button on the left-hand side, and then view
their test drive.
The site shows
all the details a driver will need, including signage, pavement
markers, and side barriers, Fisher said. "We've included not
only driveable surfaces but also visible elements, so that 'driving'
a virtual car through the Web site will give people as realistic
a sense of the new roadways as possible, before they actually get
there." The effort is aimed not just at commuters who will
be trying to get to work on time, but also occasional travelers
to Boston, and those who are headed to Logan Airport. The Web site,
which relies on streaming video, is particularly helpful in familiarizing
drivers with interchanges that might otherwise be tricky during
the first few drives.
people each day take Interstate 93 north to the Callahan Tunnel
and Logan Airport. This route will no longer be available once the
new construction opens. Those people need to know where they're
going," said Fisher. "Drivers will go through a period
of adjustment, getting accustomed to the new routes, entrances and
exits. This is an effort at helping them get comfortable with the
details of those routes ahead of time. We want people to know the
way without injuring themselves or others, or dealing with the inconvenience
of missing an exit."