Tackling the driving task in a virtual world

What if there was a way to build up the skills of potential truck drivers without the risk of letting them loose on a $300,000 truck in the wild?

Walking into Deakin University’s new Genesis Simulator is a bit like entering a sci-fi movie or a giant videogame. A 360-degree wall of five-metre-high screen displays a fully immersive virtual environment – when I visited it was a racing track – and in the centre of the simulator, sitting on a set of tracks, is a car cabin. 

The Genesis Simulator is the only one of its type in Australia and the only one in the world located in a university. 

Deakin says the simulator offers an immersive simulation experience and variable virtual worlds, while the system’s 12 video projectors offer high quality graphics. The cutting edge high fidelity motion and sound work together to create driving simulations that are as real as possible. 

Indeed, sitting inside the replica cabin with all the normal car controls in front of you and nothing but giant virtual screens visible from all sides, the Genesis simulator is incredibly immersive. 

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In addition to a light vehicle Deakin also keeps a cab-over style truck cabin that it can connect to the simulator. Once again, the truck cabin is an exact replica, that aims to give users the most realistic driving experience possible. 

Deakin has given plenty of attention to detail to make sure each session in a simulator feels like a real drive.

The vehicle cabins can move four metres in every direction as well as half a metre up and down, meaning it can simulate every sharp turn, bump and feelings of acceleration and deceleration a driver might experience. The seatbelts can even tighten over the driver’s body when they engage the brake too quickly. 

Genesis isn’t just one big toy however, Deakin says the simulator is a platform that will support research into a range of different fields, including: 

  • Automotive testing and design;
  • Fast-track of vehicle prototyping;
  • Improvements in driver and other roads user safety through assistive technology and transport infrastructure;
  • Evaluation of drivers’ performance under a wide range of conditions; and
  • Driver/vehicle performance optimisation. 

The new simulator is the latest addition to Deakin’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI). 

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IISRI has more than 15 years’ experience in motion simulation research and houses Australia’s biggest multi-disciplinary team of world-class mobility researchers and PhD students. 

With the addition of the Genesis Simulator, IISRI now houses more than seven cutting-edge simulators worth more than $40 million. 

Deakin says IISRI has a strong track record in research, innovation and commercialisation, having worked with more than 300 businesses, industry and government agencies around the world, often in long term strategic partnerships. 

One of the aims of Deakin’s IISRI research team is to better understand the human-machine interface, that is the way people relate to, and experience the machines they operate. 

This notion is essentially the way machines are designed to be ergonomic and user friendly and also helps designers and researchers to understand when a machine is poorly designed for human operation. 

Deakin hopes to work with as many stakeholders and clients as possible. Organisations that do partner with Deakin to make use of Genesis can remain the sole proprietors of the data produced by the simulator. 

One of the many important applications for technology like Genesis is developing research that can help influence transport laws and regulation. For example, researchers can put drivers in Genesis to better understand how fatigue effects someone’s ability to drive. 

The effects of sleep deprivation or certain medical conditions can be safely tested, and a wealth of data recorded. 

Another important application is for heavy vehicle training. The Genesis simulator allows aspiring truck drivers to experience driving a truck in a very safe and controlled environment. 

Technology like this can play an important role in reducing the labour shortage for truck drivers, particularly by encouraging more women to get behind the wheel. 

The Director of IISRI, Professor Doug Creighton, says that it could also lead to a scenario where people trying to get their heavy vehicle licence could accumulate equivalent hours in the simulator. 

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Advanced technology has so much potential that it can be difficult to truly appreciate what it is capable of without actually seeing and experiencing it for yourself. Which is why Deakin is keen to attract as many people as possible to come see what it can do. 

Creighton says at the end of the day it’s about working with key stakeholders to identify use-cases for the simulator, and the team at IISRI, to help to improve the road transport industry in priority areas. 

“We want as many people as possible involved from the transport industry in advancing safe integration of advanced technology,” he says.

At IISRI the team has a positive approach to transport and road safety applications for this simulator. The simulator’s Manager Stu Robottom hopes to work with the Australian transport sector and encourage greater use of advanced technology for safer Australian road use.

“As a University we seek collaborations with and support of both government and industry to fully realise this goal,” he says. 

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