In January 2009, the Licensing Agency of the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), United Arab Emirates, evaluated a new type of driving simulation technology.
The evaluation found that the technology could be used to improve driver training and assessment. Mr Ahmed Bahrozyan, CEO of the Licensing Agency said, like all Licensing Agencies we are looking at technologies that better prepare drivers to manage the complexities of the driving task.
Simulators are used in many industries such as the aviation industry. However there is no evidence that any government uses driving simulators for formal driver training or assessment and little evidence that driving schools use simulators for driver training.
A common problem with driving simulators has been their lack of realism. The new simulators were evaluated because they use "real vehicles", which provide the best opportunity for a realistic driving experience. Two simulators were evaluated using two vehicles - a Chevrolet Lumina (large 6 cyclinder vehicle) and a Suzuki Jimny (small 4 wheel drive vehicle).
The simulators use rear wheel drive vehicles, which are driven onto the simulator and locked into place. As vehicles are driven in-gear, computers monitor the drive speed and position of the steering wheels and project moving road network (200 degrees of imagery) onto three screens around the vehicle.
The simulators were found to be advanced, world class performers. The high majority (over 80%) of drivers involved in the evaluation (there were 40 drivers involved) who drove more than once, reported that the simulators provide a "quite real" driving experience.
The simulators can provide an endless number and range of road networks, change traffic density, provide night and day visibility, rain, fog, snow and wind, as well as provide the driver with in-car navigation. Like a video game, a simulated drive can be "Paused" at any time.
The simulators can also change "simulated" vehicle traction to match changed road surface conditions through to ice conditions. During the evaluation one vehicle was driven up to 160 klms per hour without the simulator losing image clarity or realism.
During the evaluation the simulators performed without any system failures or unexplained events. The technology was stable and predictable and performed without fault.
Of interest was the ability to provide a fully computer managed assessment feature, including automated reporting on a driver's driving manner and road rule compliance. The system can provide a report (pass / fail) on road rule compliance, such as speeding, following other vehicles too closely, failure to stop at traffic lights or stop signs, failure to indicate turns or lane changes.
The system is able to report on the driver's driving manner, such as aggressive accelerating or decelerating, aggressive turning and general vehicle positioning on the simulated road network. Using the above features, only the driver needs to be in the vehicle.
The system is capable of being networked so that multiple drivers may use the same road network at the same time, which means simulated vehicles on the simulated road network are actually being driven by drivers using other simulators.
Road hazards on a simulated drive can be pre-determined, such as a bus pulling away from a kerb, as well as programmed into simulated vehicles, such as driving too close to the vehicle in front, causes it to react by suddenly slowing down.
The system can also produce a DVD of a drive that shows an aerial view (not the driver's view) of the vehicle on the road network. It may be possible to match driver errors, such as failure to indicate a lane change, which appears on the drive report, with the drive replay.
Simulators may provide the opportunity to deliver high quality, highly standardised training and assessment. The quality of the training and assessment through the system would of