Simulators help automakers design safer cars
Simulator technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and car designers are building new understanding of the causes (and techniques for preventing) accidents. Lab testing absolutely has its place, but what are these tools doing to help understand the impact of real-world stress (road rage, traffic jams, late for a meeting) or distractions (your favorite song, an annoying cell phone call) – in other words, the context that doesn’t naturally occur in a laboratory. I fear the model is more to consider the human as a component with performance parameters and therefor engineer the hell out of the situation.
Driving simulators are interior mock-ups (or in some cases, complete cars) placed on hydraulically actuated platforms and surrounded by video screens and speakers. Drivers at the wheel feel vibrations, acceleration and deceleration just as if they were driving on the roads projected around them.
“You save 50 percent of your research time,” said Beuzit, noting one reason companies build multimillion-dollar simulators. “It has transformed the automobile industry in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Because the simulator experience is so close to reality, providing the physical sensation of going around a curve or bouncing over a badly paved road, scientists can use it to do fundamental research on how all the senses contribute to what a driver perceives, said Andras Kemeny, a research director at the technical center.
For Renault, he said, “It is absolutely necessary to understand the driver’s strategy in driving, and then design industrial objects according to this knowledge.” Kemeny said it would take a decade to complete the loop of bringing fundamental research results to showrooms.