Driving Virtually

3 min read
Driving simulators are not only helping learner drivers and motorcyclists to better prepare for actual road conditions, they are also helping autonomous vehicle players create safer products.

Those of us old enough to remember the early video games that had us ‘flying’ a helicopter or ‘driving’ a truck will know how advanced simulators have become over the years. Sure, the premise of those games was for fun but — more and more — simulators have grown in importance to prepare us for the real world.

Simulators have already been employed early on to help everyone from astronauts to crane operators to prepare for real-world applications. In the world of driving, simulator systems, such as Virtual Reality (VR), are proving to be an important ally in a bid to make roads safer in cities. Traffic-related crashes remain one of the main causes of death across the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and programme developers have responded through the power of simulations.

Benefits of Virtual Reality
Learning to drive isn’t an easy task; taking to the roads and dealing with actual traffic conditions can be daunting. Providing a hands-on experience and educating new drivers on road safety and the precautions to take can help ease them into actual motoring situations. Driving simulators such as VR deliver hyper-realistic motoring environments that allow users to experience and learn more about the consequences of dangerous driving. This, in turn, encourages motorists to think more about their behaviour on the roads and to practise safer driving.

In Singapore, a compulsory simulator training for learner motorists has recently been implemented. Since December 2019, learner drivers and motorcyclists have had to complete the training before they are allowed to book their practical driving or riding test. The training comprises 15 different scenarios split into three modules. The scenarios include the top 10 main causes of traffic accidents, such as high-speed expressway cornering and driving in wet weather. Learners are given 20 minutes to complete each module.Recreating Real-life Scenarios
Training in a safe and controlled environment, learners practise defensive driving, which will prepare them for various road situations and inculcate good driving habits. The simulator allows the learners to ‘operate’ the different aspects of a car while dealing with road conditions. They will learn about things such as when to start braking and safe distances to keep when driving in adverse conditions. In fact, the simulator really mimics a real car, from the running engine feedback to the simulator tilting if you go over a curb. All these go some way towards creating an almost real driving experience. When learners fail to navigate a situation, they can view on-screen explanations of what went wrong.

As the world moves into self-driving and autonomous motoring, driving simulators have helped developers to ‘teach’ these cars to drive better than humans. Simulation is key towards making sure that these cars will run safely on actual roads, and the ability to add on complex parameters to these simulators allows tests to be run over and over again to make sure things work.

Safe driving practices are fundamentally important for safer roads, and simulator technology has played — and will continue to play — an important role in this aspect.