Montana State University

MSU doctoral student receives prestigious fellowship

June 12, 2014 -- Tanya Reinhardt, MSU News Service

Jessica Mueller. Photo courtesy of Neil Hetherington, Western Transportation Institute.   High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN— Jessica Mueller received a graduate fellowship grant from the U.S. Transportation Department and the Federal Highway Administration for research comparing driving simulators with actual on-road driving.

Mueller, who is conducting research at Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute Driving Simulation Lab on campus, will receive the $13,000 Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship to help fund a project assessing the accuracy of driving simulators.

"Receiving this fellowship means I can continue researching the effectiveness of different simulators and how driver responses compare between the simulator and actual road experiences," said Mueller, who has worked and studied at the institute for six years.

Originally from Knoxville, Tenn., Mueller earned a master’s in industrial engineering from MSU in 2011 and began working on her doctorate under the guidance of Laura Stanley, associate professor in mechanical and industrial engineering.

"Jessie has already had a scientific impact on improving the safety of our roadways," Stanley said. "Whether it be through her virtual reality training validation pursuits for teen drivers or designing a safer, more ergonomic ambulance, her contributions are helping to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities amongst some of our most vulnerable drivers, specifically teen and EMS drivers."

As part of the current research project Mueller studies drivers’ physiological, behavioral, and subjective responses in both vehicles and in simulators. Mueller collects data from at least eight different sources such as mounted cameras, heart rate monitors and vehicle feedback reports that monitor speed, braking and acceleration.

"The equipment records 60 data points per second and then I use that information to create scenarios in simulators that mimic real road conditions and events—for example, a deer jumping out in front of the car," said Mueller whose ultimate goal is to design simulators that will enhance driver safety.

"Everybody has a red-line where they are cognitively spent. I want to study what drivers do differently when they hit that threshold, and are their responses the same in a simulator as they are on the actual road. That information can then be used to design more effective simulators."

MSU's Western Transportation Institute is the country’s largest national university transportation center focused on rural transportation issues. The main facility is adjacent to the MSU campus in Bozeman with additional offices in Alberta, central Washington and a test facility near Lewistown.

"My advisor, Laura Stanley, has always pushed me to excel. MSU, the transportation institute and the College of Engineering have all contributed to my successes and I am grateful for the opportunities they have afforded me," Mueller said.

As a recipient of the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship, Mueller will travel to the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., where she will share her research developments with others in the industry.

"This is a very prestigious award for those seeking a career in transportation and I believe Jessie is a model for what this award represents," Stanley said.

Mueller has also extensively studied ambulance safety issues and the impact simulator training could have on young-drivers.

Contact: Jessica Mueller, (406) 994-6078, Jessica.mueller@coe.montana.edu

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