From the Gran Turismo, to the Richard Burns Rally of old, to Shift 2, racing games have been part of our lives for a few decades now. Driven by the urge to outdo each other, gamers have loyally upgraded versions of their favorite racing games to access new features and challenges.
That was until a new breed of games cropped up. Virtual reality has changed the way we perceive gaming. Racing fans no longer have to sit by the side. At a cost, you can experience the same racing conditions, tension and environments as your favorite racecar drivers minus the danger. Experts in other fields have also taken notice and adopted the technology. This includes the medical, manufacturing and engineering fields. This holds especially true for racing simulators.
There are many areas of application for racing simulators. These include:
1. Study Different Conditions and Environments
For experienced drivers, getting used to a virtual environment takes some time. There are numerous advantages modifiable virtual worlds have to offer. Being virtual implies that developers can easily modify roads, weather and traffic conditions at will. This allows trainees to practice delicate or complicated maneuvers repeatedly until they get them right. Trainees can also learn from observing the mistakes of their fellow students.
An added benefit is that even trainees in geographically separate locations can be exposed to the same driving conditions through a virtual environment. Trainees can be exposed to varied conditions such as night driving or driving in the snow regardless of where they live.
Trainees can also develop driving skills at their own pace. In time, trainees begin to anticipate traffic conflicts, due to repeated exposure. Since sims are programmable, different trainees can each use applications at different levels. This goes a long way in reducing trainee frustrations, especially when dealing with difficult tasks.
It would also be important to note that sims do not entirely produce realistic driving experiences. As such, experimental results cannot be fully relied upon when drawing conclusions.
2. Improved Means of Data Collection
Using on-board computers, engineers and trainers are able to get accurate performance reports, based on a trainee’s performance. Using a real car, this data would be difficult to obtain and unnecessarily laborious. Chances are, it would also be less accurate. Simulators have also brought to the fore new technologies that can study other areas of interest, such as a trainee’s reaction time, coordination and ability to perceive danger by tracking eye movements.
It is recommended that drivers only have short sessions of 10 or less minutes. This is because motion sickness in simulators is quite common. It gets worse with age. Older users have complained of discomfort when using sims, as well as their lacking driving demands compared to real vehicles. This then becomes a hindrance to data collection.
3. Avoiding Real World Dangers
Just like eating cake without packing the calories, trainees have the luxury of practicing dangerous driving maneuvers without being in any danger of physical harm. Modelled with the real world in mind, tasks are set to be unpredictable. Trainees can learn how to anticipate precarious situations long before facing them outside the virtual world.
This serves to teach critical driving events such as tire bursts and road crossing animals, cyclists and so on. Advanced sims not only teach new drivers how to drive, but they also teach the consequences of bad driving. Players who rush or drive dangerously are immediately eliminated. Platforms such as Xbox with its Xbox One Steering Wheel also have driving sims, there is no age limitation as to who can enjoy driving from the comfort of their seats.
It is thought that drivers become competent in a relatively short amount of time. The only shortcoming to this is that there are very few studies that suggest whether success in the virtual environment actually transfers to the real world.
4. Cutting Costs
With an F1 car costing upwards of $6,000,000, even the slightest of errors has a huge effect on the budget. Racing teams are adopting this technology as a means of reducing costs of errors during practice runs. Driving schools are also embracing sims to teach would-be drivers how to make safe driving decisions without incurring costs brought about by accidents. Racing teams do not then need to have a huge team of instructors. A single instructor would be capable of handling a number of students in one go.
This also results in lower fuel costs. In turn, this ensures that there are lower exhaust emissions, which ultimately is good for our environment.
5. Control of the Learning Process
Trainers are able to monitor the entire learning process. Using detailed records, trainers can identify learners that need more practice as well as those who can take advanced stages or courses. This works out especially well for organizations that group their drivers into fleets.
It is not all rosy, though. Those who use sims for training have reported that it is almost impossible to get the physicality of driving. For a professional racing team, it is also more difficult for engineers to study fuel consumption, aerodynamics and consumption of power. It is also not easy for sim developers to recreate courses exactly as they are. There are times some features of a race track will be missing while some additions will be absent in the real world.
We will never know if simulated driving will ever fully replace the experiences that are gained by driving an actual car. Professional racing drivers such as Lewis Hamilton have gone on record claiming that a simulated environment cannot correctly reproduce the sensations of a real vehicle. Nonetheless, Lewis has used the same technology to learn courses he has not driven on before.
Top level simulation kits are still very expensive. However, as processor technology advances, prices are likely to come down in the future. Console options also make the technology much more accessible. Limited only by imagination, we will likely begin to see this technology being used in other areas such as driving school training and testing as well as for entertainment purposes.