As a musician, there have been many late-night drives home in where I should have pulled over and got an hour sleep. Drowsy at the wheel is not a good thing – Sometimes I wonder how I made it home. That’s what Ford tests – Stupid people like me who risk an accident just to sleep on my bed.
In our first stop on the Ford tour, we visited the Ford VIRTTEX room. What looks like an attraction at Disneyworld, it’s actually a state-of-the-art system that tests drivers who are tired or become distracted by everyday items; tuning the car stereo or looking at your cell phone. Ford then uses that data to make safer vehicles for better driving.
VIRTTEX stands for “Virtual Test Track Experiment”. It’s just like being in a flight simulator, in this case your in a Ford vehicle. The large VIRTTEX dome is ontop a series of hydraulics that makes the ride pretty close to actual conditions. It can put a driver in an endless amount of driving situations where they can record in the control room.
The idea is not about putting warning signals in the car – it’s about whether the driver will listen to those signals. Make it so the alert beeps are not so obnoxious you want to disable them. They become a regular part of driving, while keeping you safe.
The 180 front, 120 degree back screen dome would make you want to turn on the Packers game and pull out some Chips and beer. An LCD panel in the back of the car allows you to see the Virtual world wherever you turn. The acoustic environment is also setup so you can be immersed in your environment – Just like if you were actually driving the vehicle.
The car is bolted down, as Dr. Mike Blommer** explained. They can get another car in, but it’s not a easy process. Therefore one car gets swapped out every three years. The steering column and other internal dash items are controlled by the user. Emergency precautions for the simulator invoke when the car door opens or the seat belt is unbuckled during tests.
Ford conducts many scenarios, from distracted drivers, to hazardous conditions. They even conduct a test where they keep participants up for hours, then make them drive in the simulator. Sounds like something I would do..
The best part, though, was the opportunity to drive the vehicle simulator. Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central was the first driver, the guys from Pixelated Geek went next. They tested the ability to watch the road for emergency. Todd read a series of number on a panel to the right, which took his eyes off the road. As he was reading, a truck would brake in front of him.
But then I got to drive the simulator, which I was also given the distraction test. I was ready for it in seeing what happened with Todd, but it was still fun. I had to read six sequential numbers off, which was hard, because I don’t keep my eyes off the road that long.
I did a great job, but as I turned off my camera, the VIRTTEX dome when BAM!!! The emergency protocols kicked into place. Not sure why – I didn’t unbuckle my seatbealt or touch the car door. I’ll tell you something – When that happens, you really get a ride…
Overall, it was an awesome experience. Best part is we just started the tour. Next up – We go into the Motion Capture room and play around with a virtual engine.
Video of the event is below.
**Dr Michael Blommer has been with Ford Motor Company for the last fourteen years. He is a technical expert in sound quality and psychophysics. He researches sound quality and sound and motion control for driving simulators, as well as the relationship between stimulation and perception.