Monday, June 08, 2009

Simulated Driving Better Than Videogame

IMHO, at any rate, because you get a practical takeaway in driving improvement, in addition to a sort of "Death Race 2000" virtual reality experience...

Here's a link to James Mennie's story about my college classmate Dr. Pierro Hirsch's new and improved high-tech computer-simulation for driver's education--based on flight simulators--from the Montreal Gazette.:
The VS500M car simulator is $75,000 worth of hardware that will take you where you want to go without your ever having to leave the room.

A trio of screens provide the driver with a 180-degree view on any number of driving horizons - urban, rural, snow filled or drizzling. A pair of smaller screens duplicate the blind spots that none of the drivers hurtling past on the highway outside seem to check, and the seat, dashboard and steering column tell you that somewhere out there there's a Pontiac Sunfire that's missing some parts.

"Pull onto the side of the highway," Hirsch suggests, as the screen lights up to display a tree-lined stretch of autoroute. "You'll feel the gravel under your tires."

Actually, you feel in it the steering wheel and in the simulator platform, the force feedback part of the ride.

But even if it feels like the real thing, how much of a favour are you doing a driving student by closeting him or her in a controlled environment when, sooner or later, they'll have to steer a course, so to speak, through the real world?

"The reality of this simulator is sufficient for teaching," Hirsch says. "What a difference - I can focus, I'm not looking at the road, I'm looking at (the student's) behaviour and I'm correcting minute behaviour that I would have missed in a car because I couldn't possibly be paying attention to every movement of their hand or their foot."

Virage president RĂ©mi Quimper designed flight simulators for CAE before starting Virage four years ago (the prototype for the VS500M was put together in the basement of his home).

He says that five years ago, he and some fellow engineers at CAE began looking into whether road-level simulations could be produced cost effectively and serve the needs of driving schools.

"By the 1990s, flight simulators, which had been developed at first for their cost effectiveness, were being used because of their effectiveness as teaching tools. ... You could reproduce situations with a flight simulator that you couldn't on an actual aircraft," he said, "And I thought that the same thing would happen in (the driving education) industry, that a better tool was needed to support that learning experience."

Virage has seen its simulators used by research centres examining the effects of sleep deprivation and distraction on driving reflexes, and by rehab centres preparing victims of head injuries for their return to the road (a version of the simulator modified for train truck drivers is also up and running).

There's also a deal in the works to offer specialized training on the simulators to drivers of such emergency vehicles as squad cars and ambulances.