Many people associate driving simulators with video racing games that allow players to "drive" vehicles. They simply think of them as bigger, more involved ways to experience driving without actually driving. In some ways, they're right.
However, driving simulators are more than just games. To clear things up, below are answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about driving simulators.
Driving simulators are electronic devices that are named for exactly what they do―simulate the experience of driving. The actual size of a driving simulator depends on its intended use.
When you use a driving simulator, you actually sit in a model of a vehicle and use a steering wheel and other vehicle components, rather than the floor of your living room holding a video controller.
Driving simulators rely on our senses to simulate driving, using pictures, noises, and movement to make the experience look, sound, and feel just like we're driving. Video games also use pictures and sounds; however, the only movement you might feel when playing a video game is being pushed over by your younger brother for knocking his car off the road.
Thanks to driving simulators, we can now safely experience driving different kinds of vehicles in various road and weather conditions.
Driving simulators can be used by anyone who has access to one, and they are used for entertainment, as well as research and educational purposes.
As far as entertainment goes, the rawest, most basic and simplistic form of a driving simulator can be found at any given video arcade. These are the larger-than-normal video games that allow players to sit in front of the screen and use a steering wheel rather than buttons or joysticks. Some driving simulators of the arcade variety also include gas and brake pedals.
Some arcade variety driving simulators are more advanced than others, and allow players to experience movement; however, for the most part they focus on graphic displays and sounds to help you feel as if you are really driving.
There are also highly advanced driving simulators used for research and educational purposes. These driving simulators can be used for driver education classes, as well as in experiments conducted by researchers.
Researchers interested in driving simulators include university professors and students, doctors, and vehicle manufacturers. Researchers may use driving simulators to:
- Study the effects of drugs and alcohol on drivers.
- Study the needs of drivers with physical and visual impairments.
- Study, develop, and test new safety devices such as air bags and safety belts.
As mentioned above, many driving simulators can be found in video arcades. You may also stumble across one at a carnival, a fair, or an entertainment park. The types of driving simulators are less advanced than those used for research and educational purposes, but they still offer the simulated experience of driving.
Vehicle manufacturers such as Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, and Honda all have their own driving simulators.
If you have some time to kill, or Internet access, you may want to check out the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), which was created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This driving simulator is located in Iowa City, Iowa, at the University of Iowa's Oakdale Research Park, and claims to be the most sophisticated in the world.
Other American driving simulators include:
- Center for Intelligent Systems Research
- Center for Transportation Safety
- Wrap-around Simulator
- University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory
- Renault Research
For more information about driving simulators and the ways in which they help us better understand and design driver education programs and safer vehicles, visit the NHTSA's Research and Development website.