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July 15, 2008

Ford VIRTTEX Driving Simulator

By Katherine Helmetag

AKA atomicalex

As I exited the giant hydraulic egg, Mike Blommer of Ford’s safety simulation team was shaking his head. "No one’s ever done that before. No one’s ever kept reading the numbers while braking." I had just successfully avoided a collision while reading flashing numbers off a screen mounted near the shifter of the TaurusX that serves as the cockpit of the only motion-equipped driving simulator in the US. The VIRtual Test Track EXperience (VIRTTEX) is a test lab and proving ground for development of Ford’s driver interaction systems used for active safety. One of the outcomes of Ford’s research into drowsy and distracted drivers is the haptic seat in the simulator—haptic is the Greek root for touch. I liked the seatbelt tugs and steering wheel vibration that mimics rumble strips. However, the vibrating seat cushion (happy seat?) was not my cup of tea. Check out the video of my simulator experience. And see more pics and technical details after the jump.

That's one smart intersection

The VIRTTEX simulator consists of a shell made of carbon fiber and Nomex composite mounted on six hydraulic pistons. The pistons are powered by a 440hp pump system. The base platform has 12 feet of radial motion from center, with 20 degrees of pitch (tilt) and 40 degrees of yaw (turning). Motion allows a more realistic simulation experience by allowing the driver to undergo g forces. 360 degree video inside of the simulator ensures that all mirrors accurately reflect the current road conditions. The TaurusX in the shell is equipped with standard controls and several cameras to record driver behaviour, including foot-cam.

My driving experience was based on a section of I-94 in western Michigan. I was to drive 65 mph in traffic going 75mph and hold speed. I tested the four different warnings—audio beeps, same-side seat vibration, seatbelt tug, and steering wheel vibration—during the lane departure assist segment. I also did three distraction sequences of reading numbers from an LCD panel near the shifter. The third one included a truck stopping in front of me with a warning from the collision avoidance system. I didn’t hit anything.

That's one smart intersection

That's one smart intersection

That's one smart intersection

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