V9 - GV - Lead Story

A True Breakthrough in Driving Simulation

MTS senior project manager Dick Baldner discusses a best-in-class new driving simulator, developed by Toyota Motor Corporation with a significant technology contribution from MTS.

Q: What prompted Toyota to pursue advanced simulation? How did MTS get involved?

Baldner:
Toyota has a rather aggressive long-term goal with its vehicle development: zero traffic fatalities. The company recognized that achieving this objective would require developing a thorough understanding of how different types of drivers react to actual accident situations, as well as how they respond to new safety innovations built into the vehicles.

Gleaning this type of information has been difficult in the past, because doing so requires exposing drivers to dangerous situations on a test track. In addition, accurately simulating real-world driving conditions in a test lab requires the difficult-to-achieve combination of visual, aural and physical elements, all orchestrated in precise unison.

This third element, physical motion, has historically been the most challenging to accurately build into the simulation experience. But it is also critical. When you slam on the brakes, for example, you need to feel the deceleration that should accompany this action, or the phenomenon will not be authentic. This sensory disharmony between what you are seeing and what you are feeling in the inner ear can also cause motion sickness.

So Toyota approached MTS to offer the critical motion mechanism, control system and related software, based on our established leadership position in motion mechanics and response measurement for other ground vehicle development applications.

Q: What solution did MTS help create?

Baldner:
We helped Toyota develop a state-of-the-art driving simulator, which is installed at Toyota’s Hagashifuji Technical Center in Shizuoka, Japan.

Slated for full-scale operation in spring of 2008, the simulator places a full vehicle prototype atop an MTS hexapod, x and y motion base, vehicle motion actuators and turntable, providing a system with twelve degrees of freedom. The vehicle is enclosed in a domed video screen four-and-a-half meters high and just over seven meters in diameter, which provides a dynamic, 360-degree visual simulation of driving through the town of Gotemba, Japan. A sophisticated audio system ensures all sound cues originate from the proper direction.

Driven by industry-leading MTS control hardware and software, the simulator moves an unprecedented 35 meters on a longitudinal plane and 20 meters laterally to provide the required force cues, resulting in an amazingly realistic virtual rendition of getting behind the wheel.

Q: Why did Toyota make such a significant technology investment? What is the company’s ultimate aim with this?

Baldner:
Toyota is pursuing accident-reducing active safety technology, which senses potential accident situations and either alerts the driver or takes actual physical measures to avoid them.

The simulator will also be used to better understand how behaviors such as fatigue, illness, inebriation and cell phone use affect driver performance, as well as to evaluate which systems might be integrated to reduce the associated risks. Now that a safe virtual experience has replaced the physical dangers of track testing, potential applications are practically endless.

Q: How might this innovation impact the automotive industry?

Baldner:
The Toyota driving simulator significantly raises the bar for how thoroughly vehicle developers must understand — and respond to — driver characteristics when designing their vehicles. Since it is now possible to evaluate a critical driving variable that went largely unexplored when testing on a track, this technology will likely receive significant interest from other manufacturers striving to design safer vehicles.

With the development of this advanced simulation system, the world has moved a big step closer to seeing vehicles that automatically sense and react to dangerous situations on the road.

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