'World's biggest Playstation' tests safety systems
By Yuri Kageyama
Toyota's new driving simulator for testing safety features is a giant dome that swivels, tilts and slides along rails to reproduce the sensations of driving on real-world roads.
A Lexus mounted inside the 4.5m high, 7m diameter dome provides the sense of acceleration, vibration and sound of driving a real car.
The internal surrounding sides of the dome show 360-degree computer graphic imagery of roads and landscape, complete with signs, pedestrians, street-side stores and faraway Mount Fuji - all synchronized to move with the simulated driving
'The big unknown about making safe cars is understanding the human brain.
In a demonstration for reporters today (November 26) at a Toyota technology centre, the dome moved horizontally and vertically along a rail in a 35m-long building.
When a driver pushed on the brakes, the dome tilted forward to give the effect of stopping. When the driver turned the steering wheel to the right, the dome tilted to the right to give the feeling of turning.
Toyota officials said the simulator would be useful for testing safety features such as warning beeps about oncoming vehicles without endangering drivers.
It could also be used to analyse how drowsiness and intoxication affected driving, they said.
Toyota executive vice-president Kazuo Okamoto said the big unknown about making safe cars was understanding the human brain and other aspects of human behaviour. The simulator, he said, would help solve such questions
Hitting a computer-generated pedestrian merely makes the image disappear.
Other automakers have developed driving simulators but they tend to be stationery, giving the effect of driving by shaking and rocking, and showing imagery jn only one place
The dome and other moving parts of Toyota's simulator weighed 78 tons, the company said.
The two reporters who won the draw to try the simulator said its braking and acceleration felt much like real-life driving, although one reporter said the graphics weren't realistic enough.
There are no computer graphics of a crash; hitting a computer-generated pedestrian merely makes the image disappear.
Toyota engineer Takashi Yonekawa said the simulator's purpose wasn't to test driving skills. It would be used to develop safety features tailored to various kinds of drivers, including beginners and the elderly, he said.
Credit Suisse auto analyst Koji Endo also took part in the demonstration; he thought the simulator was a long-term investment.
"There's no immediate return, maybe for 10 years," he said.
Toyota wouldn't say how much the simulator cost to build; it said there were no plans to build similar machines for sale. - Sapa-AP
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