As the automotive industry progresses toward the car of the future, there has been an increased interest in using augmented reality (AR) heads-up displays in driving. AR heads-up displays provide a fundamentally transformed driving experience, in which drivers have to respond to both the road and the information provided by the system. While the potential of these displays is promising, industrial and systems engineering master’s student Nayara de Oliveira Fara finds there’s also room for unsafe and distracting interfaces.

Faria, who will graduate from Virginia Tech in May, is focused on developing and testing methods to evaluate the effects of AR heads-up displays on driver distraction and performance. Faria’s deep commitment to her research and her rich and diverse educational experiences led to her selection as the 2020 Outstanding Master’s Student for the College of Engineering.

Faria aims to investigate the complexities of AR heads-up display interface design and its impacts on driver performance and safety before the displays can be broadly incorporated into vehicles.

Distracted driving, especially from the use of secondary in-vehicle displays, like GPS and cellphones, is a huge problem worldwide. On United States roadways in 2017, distraction-affected crashes accounted for 15 percent of injury crashes, 14 percent of police-reported vehicle accidents, and 10 percent of fatal crashes, according to the Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation.

“Augmented reality displays are already being used in some luxury vehicles, and soon enough, driving using AR displays will be as common as driving using a cellphone,” said Faria. “We don’t currently know how distracting and dangerous these interfaces are, because we don’t have valid methods and standards that are applicable to AR interfaces.” 

Faria was born and raised in Betin, Minas Gerais State, Brazil, and earned her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from the Pontifical Catholic University Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2016. As an undergraduate student, she had the opportunity to intern as a process engineer at Plascar Autoparts in Betim and at Kenworth Trucks in Chillicothe, Ohio.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Faria knew that she wanted to pursue a career in academia. She started her journey in graduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, where she became acquainted and fell in love with the field of human factors. Due to Hurricane Maria, however, she was forced to find a new institution.

She decided to attend Virginia Tech due to the sensitivity and support she was given during those uncertain times. Soon thereafter, she started working in the COGnitive Engineering for Novel Technologies Lab under the advisement of Joseph Gabbard, associate professor in industrial and systems engineering. 

“She is one of a small handful of students that I have encountered in my years of mentoring who embodies natural curiosity, insightful intuition, passion for high-quality research, and a focused, noteworthy work ethic,” said Gabbard.

While at Virginia Tech, Faria has served as the graduate liaison for the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers and Alpha Pi Mu and as the undergraduate liaison for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. This past fall, Faria organized a graduate research panel consisting of current and former alumni graduate students to discuss undergraduate research, research-based internships, and graduate education. The goal was to raise student engagement in the Virginia Tech research endeavor and to raise awareness of applications and opportunities within the field that are not explicitly covered in the classroom. 

“There are so many brilliant students who, given the right opportunity and mentorship, could be a perfect fit for research and academia,” said Faria. “I strongly believe that these value-added service experiences reach beyond traditional and discipline-specific degree programs, and they will help me build an inclusive and interdisciplinary academic community in the future as a college professor.”

After graduation, Faria will continue her research and pursue her doctoral degree in industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech.  

- Written by Linda Hazelwood

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