What would the ultimate driving simulator be like? For gamers, it would be a set-up with a seat that moves and a steering wheel with haptic feedback that gives the same feel as driving a car, bumps and all. And of course, and a crystal-clear virtual reality headset with all the ambient sounds to provide total immersion.
For the engineers at Volvo Cars, the ultimate simulator is simply one where it is hard to tell reality from simulation. They have developed a ground-breaking mixed-reality simulator that is at the next level, used to take new strides in safety and autonomous driving technology.
Driving on real roads
Using cutting-edge technology from the leading real-time 3D development platform Unity and Finnish virtual and mixed reality experts Varjo, the simulator involves driving a real car on real roads. It combines life-like, high definition 3D graphics, an augmented reality headset, and a full-body Teslasuit that provides haptic feedback from a virtual world, while also monitoring bodily reactions.
This combination of software and hardware allows the engineers and researchers to endlessly simulate traffic scenarios on a real test track road while using a real car, all in total safety. They can gain important insights on the interaction between people and the car for development of new safety, driver assistance and autonomous driving features.
Testers can be exposed to imagined active safety and driver assistance features, upcoming autonomous drive user interfaces, future car models and many other scenarios. It can be used on real test track roads or in the test lab, and every scenario is fully customizable. The possibilities are literally endless and importantly, safe.
Driving with a mixed reality headset
Last year, together with Varjo, Volvo Cars became the first carmaker to make it possible to drive a real car while wearing a mixed reality headset. Now that collaboration has been expanded to include Unity and full-body haptic suit maker Teslasuit.
According to Casper Wickman, senior leader of User Experience at Volvo’s Open Innovation, this enables Volvo Cars to study authentic human reactions in a safe environment and at a fraction of the cost of a real test.
“Working together with great companies like Varjo, Unity and Teslasuit has allowed us to test so many scenarios that look and feel totally real, without having to physically build anything,” said Wickman. “It lets us test drive actual cars in through traffic scenarios that look and feel real, but can be adjusted at the touch of a button.”
When developing safety systems for cars, like collision-avoiding technologies, testing is crucial. But testing these systems in reality can be dangerous, time-consuming and expensive. Virtual and mixed reality simulations, however, allow for perfectly safe testing in authentic environments, without having to build any physical prototypes or set up complex scenarios.
“By using this cutting-edge technology, we are exploring and leading the development for creating safe cars in the future. It’s great to play a part in that,” said Wickman.