Matthew Chapman is not worried about his first time behind the wheel as a student driver because he has driven dozens of times into the virtual world.
11-year-old student at Clifford Park Special School in Toowoomba has used virtual reality (VR) headphones to learn skills such as driving, navigating traffic and driving in wet conditions.
“Driving in school is definitely one of the things [my goals] and going to a friend’s house, going shopping and going to work, ”Matthew said.
All students in the school have an intellectual disability and some have additional physical and sensory disabilities.
Professor Jason Brouwer said VR technology offered important benefits for students who preferred a hands-on method of learning.
“Before we knew the rules of the road, we could discuss what the consequences of the actions were if we didn’t follow them,” he said.
“At the end of the process, they feel very proud of themselves.
“You can see it in the way they behave.”
Welcome to the future
Twenty-one students at the school have obtained a driver’s license for students so far this year after using the school’s virtual reality driving system.
The Endeavor Foundation has donated the technology to 17 Queensland regional schools that use it to teach students life skills such as taking a bus, using an ATM and driving.
Chris Beaumont of the foundation, who worked with Queensland University of Technology to design the modules, said he gradually planned to launch more challenging scenarios.
“That will lead them to get on the highway and do some road work.”
Not all students at the school will go on to drive independently, but Mr. Brouwer says everyone will be given the opportunity to use the RV system and test the student’s permission.
“We have had students who have obtained the license and have been able to use it as part of [accessing] full-time open employment, which is our ultimate goal, ”he said.
“Even if it is not [possible] this will still help them in their daily mobility and in leaving the community.
The VR module restarts whenever students collide with objects or lose control during a maneuver.
“Some students have lost control in several interesting ways,” Brouwer said.
“But they turn it around. They’ll say, ‘Okay, I can learn from that.'”
It is not a substitute
Queensland’s main transport and road department said that while there was great potential in RV, face-to-face instruction will remain important.
“The strongest evidence of crash reduction in novice drivers is associated with extensive road driving experience and real-world supervision,” a spokesman said.
“We will continue to monitor developments in VR technology and its application for learning drivers.
The Australian Association of Driver Coaches said the RV could be a useful starting point for new drivers.
“This can give them a chance to better understand what it’s really like to drive,” President Julie Anderson said.
“As a driver, you always have these distractions … from friends and your favorite song on the radio and from the cute dog that happens.”
Disabled Motorists Australia President Emilio Savle said someone with a disability could face additional challenges in learning to drive, but the benefits were huge.
“We have quite a few members in Australia who have been driving and driving for many years and this has given them total independence,” he said.
“I think anything that is part of the toolbox that helps a person, whether they have a disability or not, would be an advantage to be able to learn to drive.”