• Laura Seminati

  • Theme:Transport, Behaviour and Society
  • Project:Using a virtual reality driving game to examine the effect of Multisensory GPS systems and autonomous driving on drivers’ behaviour
  • Supervisor: Karin Petrini
  • The Gorgon's Head - Bath University Logo
Photo of Laura Seminati


Laura completed a MSc in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Padova. During her Master she did an internship at the University of Bath and she undertook a research project investigating spatial memory and orientation and the impact of a multisensory GPS, using a Virtual Reality environment. She has joined the AAPS CDT to research interactions between people and autonomous cars. She is interested in understanding possible impact or aid of autonomous cars on spatial memory and orientation abilities.


  • My projects use Virtual Reality, but I get easily motion sickness
  • During high school I studied ancient Greek and Latin
  • I can speak Spanish
  • I have a very developed sense of smell
Using a virtual reality driving game to examine the effect of Multisensory GPS systems and autonomous driving on drivers’ behaviour

The advent of new technologies has driven rapid change and evolution in the field of spatial navigation and wayfinding. Travelling and driving to a location has become easier thanks to GPS systems and the emergence of autonomous driving. However, it remains unclear how these changes can affect drivers’ cognitive abilities and spatial knowledge acquisition, and in turn their performance as well as their safety. For example, there is recent evidence that the use of visual GPS can negatively affect attention and driving performance in users (Hejtmánek et al., 2018; Seminati et al., 2022). We have recently shown by developing an immersive virtual reality driving game that audio-visual GPS may counteract the negative effect of visual only and auditory only GPS systems and improve drivers’ performance (Seminati et al., 2022). Also, we have shown, as others before us, that different types of navigational aids can have a different impact on the users due to individual differences in spatial abilities and preferences (Baldwin 2009; Seminati et al., 2022). 

Different factors have been related to the impact of GPS systems on spatial acquisition and one important aspect that previous research has highlighted is that passively following instructions decreases the level of involvement in the environment, thus affecting spatial acquisition and later driving performance (Parush, 2007). “Passive mode” also characterises autonomous driving, where individuals are passive passengers. A recent study has shown that self-driving vehicles are likely to produce a degradation in spatial survey knowledge (i.e., in the ability to create a map-like perspective of the environment), in people who drive frequently and do not usually ride as passengers (Qin & Karimi, 2020). In contrast, we have some initial evidence that autonomous driving can have similar effects to multisensory GPS systems in terms of drivers’ performance and behaviour (Seminati et al., 2022). Hence, further driving-simulation studies are needed to understand the possible impact of autonomous driving and multisensory GPS systems on spatial acquisition and drivers’ behaviour. 

Laura's PhD project aims to build on our first study by developing and testing different types of multisensory GPS systems while accounting for user’s spatial abilities and wayfinding preferences. The project aims to assess differences between navigating with the support of GPS systems and moving in the same environment through an autonomous driving mode, while assessing users’ performances under different levels of cognitive load in a virtual reality driving environment. Laura's project will inform the development of effective and user-tailored multisensory GPS and autonomous systems and add to our understanding of spatial cognition and representation in everyday driving.

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