StreetLab allows scientists to study participants as they navigate through complex, immersive scenarios as a novel way to test the effects of sensory, motor, and cognitive challenges on realistic activities of daily living in simulated indoor and outdoor environments. Research includes development of new screening tools (e.g., targeting cognitive decline), interventions to facilitate mobility (e.g., optimizing visual and hearing aids), investigating perceptual phenomena (e.g., self-motion perception) and better design of the built environment (e.g., accessible pedestrian street crossings).
StreetLab is used to introduce sensory and cognitive challenges that are reflective of everyday life. Individuals with sensory loss (e.g., vision and hearing impairments) and cognitive declines such as dementia often experience difficulties in multitasking, which could have consequences for mobility. For instance, hearing loss is a significant but under-acknowledged risk factor for falls, and the underlying causes are not fully understood. Individuals with hearing loss experience much greater listening effort, which uses more cognitive resources, perhaps at the expense of supporting other behaviours such as walking.
Sensory loss is also a major risk factor for developing dementia, in fact, hearing loss has been identified as the top potentially modifiable risk factor (above smoking, diet, and exercise). StreetLab offers a type of brain “stress” test (analogous to a cardiac stress test, but for the brain) in that increasingly complex multisensory and multitasking challenges can be introduced. This technique can hopefully be used to identify evidence of cognitive decline at very early stages; earlier than current office-based tests of cognitive functioning.
Given its highly immersive nature, StreetLab provides an optimal environment to investigate perceptual phenomena associated with virtual environments. For instance, the sensation of self-motion in the absence of actual physical motion, a phenomenon known as vection, is a key component for a realistic and compelling VR experience. StreetLab has been used to investigate the contributions of different sensory modalities (vision, hearing, touch) with regards to vection in younger and older adults and how they interact with motion-sickness sensations such as headache, dizziness, or nausea in VR.
StreetLab is also being used to help better design aspects of the built environment, including accessible pedestrian infrastructure. For example, pedestrian signaling at intersections are designed to facilitate safe street crossing for individuals with visual impairments. However, most older adults with visual impairments also have hearing impairments, which must be considered when designing these types of auditory signals. StreetLab has been used to test and optimize different types of auditory pedestrian street crossing signals for use by older adults with and without hearing loss.
StreetLab provides a multi-sensory, fully immersive experience. Six high resolution LED projectors are blended into a 240° horizontal, by 110° vertical field-of-view curved projection screen. A realistic audio soundscape is provided by seven speakers and a subwoofer mounted behind and below the screen. This visual system and high-quality surround sound system can be coupled with various movement interfaces including a linear treadmill, force plate, game controllers and manual and powered wheelchairs. The Virtual Reality (VR) content is uniquely developed for each experiment, and it includes a realistic simulation of downtown Toronto complete with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.