For a young person to obtain a driver’s license, many states require that the applicant participate in a driver’s education course that lets the applicant drive with an instructor in a specially designed vehicle. The vehicles usually have special modifications which allow the instructor to take control of the vehicle in dangerous situations. These modifications, the maintenance, fuel, insurance, and even the parking space to keep a fleet of training vehicles all add to the cost of the training program. These costs are passed down directly to the student. I would argue that much of the student’s learning experience involves understanding the flow of traffic and the basic control concepts of the car. Therefore, I propose the development of a realistic driving simulator that can substitute for much of the student’s initial training and lower the price for the student.
The purpose of the simulator would be to give the student an accurate representation of what it would feel like to control a car, how driving relates with city or highway traffic, and how weather affects the ability to drive. The simulator would need to implement decent vehicular physics, a typical vehicle’s control systems, a 360 degree vision system, A.I. vehicles, and weather phenomena. All of these items can be implemented with proven technology and software.
The various systems need not be state of the art, but must be convincing to the student. The vehicle physics needs to be sophisticated enough to for teaching purposes, and may simulate such situations as hydroplaning, black ice, oversteering, understeering, and the effect weather has upon them. The control systems require a physical dashboard, steering wheel, gas, and brake pedal, all of which are available for consumer gaming systems. The 360 degree viewing system could be implemented with multiple LCD monitors, or could use a wrap-around projection technique already used in full motion simulators. The graphical rendering and artificial intelligence systems need not be state of the art, and can be implemented using standard techniques being applied in the gaming industry every day.
The true power behind a simulator such as this lies in the ability to test a student in situations difficult to experience safely in real life, much like the training simulators airline pilots use. Students can experience conditions that produce uncontrollable skids, car rollovers, or any other dangerous situation without fear of injury. Furthermore, these incidents could be replayed for the student to demonstrate what went wrong.
While a simulator is never a complete substitute for hands-on training, it can still be a valuable tool for new drivers. A driving simulator would provide cost savings, an increase in safety, and would even burn less gasoline, making it a green alternative. More importantly, students would receive a better education in how to drive more safely and effectively.