Driving simulators blog


In this driving simulator blog I will explain the purpose and advantages of a driving simulator. Driving simulators come in all kinds of varieties.

They range from low end to high end. Low end simulators are usually desktop simulators that consist of a computer, 1 to 4 monitors for rendering of the simulations,  and a set of steering wheel plus pedals and possibly other actuators.  High end simulators typically have a cockpit with a car seat and usually a motion platform to simulate realistic motions. There’s a large price difference between the two: low end systems cost between 5000 and 20000 euro. High end systems may cost over a mlillion euro.

Some simulators are designed for driver training while other simulators are made for doing behavioural research into car driving.




Basic driving skills in a driving simulator

The training of basic driving skills in a car driving simulator is something that distinguishes the good from the bad simulators. In most driving simulators, normal driving as in a regular car is promoted. In a number of car driving simulators, the trainee drives through a virtual environment and encounters some traffic while he is free to drive his own route. It is doubtful whether this has any advantage over regular traditional driver training in a learner car with an instructor.

What really works in a simulator is the structured training of specific driving skills in a driving simulator, mainly because this is almost impossible to do in a real car in the real world. When driving on public roads, there are always distractions and unpredictabilities and circumstances that require attention that detract from practicing single driving tasks.

Car driving tasks can be distinguished into:

  • Operational tasks: this is primary vehicle control, steering, gear shifting, use of clutch, accelerator and brake
  • Tactical tasks: speed control and lateral position control in terms of safety margins. For example, driving at a safe speed in a curve, slowing down when the road narrows, driving at a safe headway during car following, safe lane changing, starting to decelerate in time when approaching a traffic light, etc.
  • Strategic tasks: route choice and way finding.

Operational tasks are easy to automate by simply doing it a lot. When these tasks are automated they require almost no attention and then more attentional resources are available for the more safety-related tactical tasks. Strategic tasks, and mainly way finding, require a lot of conscious attention as any one knows who is searching for the destiantion in an unfamiliar town. But this task is supported by navigation systems ,so in practice the contribution to overloading the driver has been diminished greatly.

In the Carnetsoft driving simulator, the driver training starts with automation of operational tasks : steering is automated, gear changing, lane changing, starting and stopping. After that the tactical tasks are automated: turning left, right and driving straight on at intersections, entering and leaving highways, and negotiating roundabouts. In these tasks visual scaning and mirror checking is very important. And then when these basic tasks have been practiced sufficiently so that they require less attention, all tasks are integrated in a series of lessons that focus on specific driving environments, such as rural roads, villages, motorways and highways.



Manufacturers of driver training simulators in the Netherlands

The Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world where driver training has been supported by driver training simulators. At around the year 2000, these companies worked together to develop driver training simulators for the Dutch automobile club ANWB. At that time the ANWB had the plan to introduce drivinjg simulators in their driver training curriculum and they wanted large medium cost simulators that used an actual car, that was specially prepared for use in a simulator setting, a large dome of projector screens and projectors. A number of companied formed a consortium which consisted of VVCR, Green Dino, TNO in Soesterberg and ST Software.

VVCR acted as project manager and system integrator. TNO offered their knowledge. Green Dino was responsible for the computer graphics and ST Software created the real time simulations and lessons.

During the course of the project, disagreements between the project partners resulted in lawsuits that ended the project. The first problem arose when VVCR started a lawsuit against Green Dino, because Green Dino was accused of not holding their promises and haming VVCR. Green Dino lost and left the consortium and started to make their own driving simulators . They became the most important player in the Dutch market, mainly because they started to cooperate with the BOVAG, a competitor of the ANWB in many respects. After Green Dino left the consortium, TNO took over the role of Green Dino by developing the graphics system in close cooperation with ST Software.

After some time it became obvious that VVCR, did not play their role as project manager in a fair by: they failed to pay the bills for the work done by ST Software. As soon as VVCR was paid by the ANWB, they used the money for other things instead of paying ST Software, which resulted in another lawsuit strated by ST Software against VVCR. The latter organisation was summoned by the court to pay, but then the tarining department of VVCR declared itself bankrupt, and ST Software never got the money.

After that, the consortium fell apart. The owner of VVCR, Andre Rozendom, started a new simulator company called ‘Rozendom technologies‘, and started a new cooperation with the ANWB for whih they hired another IT company to make the simulations.

And that’s how business is done.

Then after some time the founder of ST Software left that company and started a new one: Carnetsoft. Since 2011, Carnetsoft has started to develop their own software and they focus on the low cost training and research market.  So now there are 4 individual driving simulator companies in he Netherlands: Green Dino, Rozendom technologies, ST Software and Carnetsoft.

Driving simulators for testing

In a driving test (otherwise called a driving exam) a man’s capacity to drive an engine vehicle is tried. It is required to succesfully go through the test keeping in mind the end goal to get a driver’s permit. As a rule, a driving test is split into two sections: a street test, to evaluate driving capacity, and a rule knowledge test, to test the information of activity standards and directions.

The knowledge test generally is institutionalized and the same for all individuals who apply for the test. This influences the test to reasonable. The circumstance for the street tests is very surprising, be that as it may. In a few nations the street test is limited to testing the capacity to control the vehicle. This worries a mobility test that comprises of driving through an arrangement of activity cones, turning around a corner and making crisis stops. In different nations, the test comprises of driving in activity in different circumstances. The circumstances to which the understudy is uncovered can contrast generally. A few understudies play out the test in a complex urban activity condition, while others enter and leave an interstate a couple of times. Likewise, the interrater dependability is frequently low, implying that a few analysts are more strict than others. This circumstance can influence breezing through a street to test resemble a lottery.

It is regularly faulty whether the street test truly tests the capacity to drive a vehicle. Driving a vehicle involves substantially more than basic having the capacity to control the vehicle. You must have the capacity to drive sheltered too. You must have the capacity to envision on possibly risky circumstances, perceive street signs and know how to apply the guidelines of the street.

With a car driving simulator, driving tests can be made all the more reasonable. You can utilize a driving test system to give each individual a similar test. This ought to ideally be a state sanctioned test in which every applicable circumstance are incorporated. Additionally, the issue of inter-rater reliability is comprehended in light of the fact that the driving simulator will rate driving conduct reliably and apply similar standards for all understudies.

It will most likely be far before a driving simulator is utilized to test driving capacity and supplant the present street tests, yet I figure it will be a major advance forward as far as reasonableness and quality.

Driving simulator for behavioural research

There are a few hundreds of institutes worldwide that do research into driver behaviour on a regular basis. A large number of universities have faculties in mechanical engineering,  human factors research or experimental psychology where driver behaviour research is being done. For experimental research, a research driving simulator has a lot advantages.

Driving in the real world is a complex task and it’s very difficult to control that environment. For human behaviour experiments, control of the circumstances is of utmost importance.  When you want to test a hypothesis, the best experimental design is a within-subjects design. This means that each test subject performs a number of tests where a condition is manipulated between the tests. The differences on a number of dependent variables are tested as measured during the different test conditions. Because each subject received the same tests, differences in results betwen test conditions are tested within the same subjects, therefore the name within-subjects design. The most important reason for this design is the reduction of unexplained variance. In any experiment, you want to keep the things that are not relevant for the experiment the same, because irrelevant variation increases the unexplained varianed. The ratio explained variance  divided by unexplained variance must be as large as possible in order to find significant results.

The explained variance increases when the difference on a number of dependent variables between test conditions is larger, while the power of the results increses when unexplained variance decreases.

In a driving simulator, the noise in the data, and thus unexplaned variance, can be reduced a lot compared to testing in the real world, because the test conditions can be controlled  completely in a car simulator. Traffic can be controlled, the weather can be controlled, the virtual environment can be designed precisely as the researcher wants it.  The experimental manipulations are fully under the experimenter’s control. If done the  right way, this all helps to improve your experimental design and get better results with your experiments.

Research simulator studies can be found in many different sites. For a general background in driving simulators in traffic psychology see this info.