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Transportation Hardware

Inside Virttex, Ford's Driver Distraction Simulator 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the hands-inside-the-simulator dept.
An anonymous reader writes "After my collision the world went blank but I didn't see angels and harps because the highway and the crash situation were imaginary, created inside Ford's Virttex (virtual text track experiment cockpit simulator). Functioning much like a simulator for pilots, this domed virtual world on pitching and sliding stilts has been used to test car cockpits and instruments since 2001. It played a role in the development of recent center stacks such as MyFord Touch. In recent years, Ford used Virttex driver distraction research to learn more about what causes driver inattention and what countermeasures Ford can embed into cars to keep people like me from becoming another Darwinian statistic. It also gives Ford a leg up on the competition — Ford says it's the only automaker in the U.S. with a virtual reality simulator of this magnitude."
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Inside Virttex, Ford's Driver Distraction Simulator

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  • I wonder what they d... Oh look!!! A Squirrel!!
  • by Ichijo (607641) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @08:45PM (#40850725) Homepage Journal

    Real-life driving tests are very limited in what they can test. Does the driver continue to drive the speed limit on a slippery road or when visibility is poor? Does the driver stop for pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks? If the car starts hydroplaning, does the driver let off the gas or slam on the brakes?

    We have the technology to test all of these situations and more. Why are we still in the 1950s in driver testing?

    • by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @09:03PM (#40850861)

      Money, my dear boy.

      How much does each one of those things cost? Multiply by the number of DMVs that administer driving tests. Might even need 2 or 3 per DMV.

      I'm sure there are other reason as well. Moral guardians not being satisfied with "a video game" demonstrating the proper skills of real-world driving (even though you and I know better) or concerned parents blaming their Little Snowflake's failures on the machine. But money is almost certainly the main limiting factor.

      • I think we can afford one of those simulators in each state if we cut 10% of the military budget. Hell, we should do that just on principle.

      • How much does an accident cost?
        Remember to include:
        - physical damage to property (your car, other car, fence, brick wall, light poles, baby carriage, etc)
        - ambulance, police, fire, tow truck costs
        - hospital costs
        - funeral costs
        - litigation costs (your car ran into my garden and destroyed my prize winning roses, so I'm going to sue you)

        Preventing at least a few accidents costs way less than these machines used to educate drivers.
        Knowing the stopping distance of your car at 60mph in the wet is way mo
        • I once figured out how much a self driving car would be worth.
          1. Safety - The system is better than 90% of drivers. It may not get into the same accidents as a human driver, it doesn't get into as many, but it still has them.
          Value: ~$700-2100/year. High end is for bad/drunk drivers, otherwise it assumes a 90% average savings on insurance.
          2. Average human values their time at around $10/hour. 15k miles/year@40mph = 375 hours
          Value: $3,750
          3. Due to driving sedately/optimally, it saves 10% gas mileage. (

      • by Ichijo (607641)

        More importantly, how much would it cost per driver license applicant? If you can't afford to be properly tested, why should you be allowed to operate deadly machinery in the presence of others?

      • by karnal (22275)

        I was talking with a co-worker in Germany about motorcycles. I probably put $300 into my training - $250 for the beginner's motorcycle class (which got me my license) and $50 in costs to BMV in Ohio for license and temps. In Germany, they have approximately a 1400 pound expenditure before they're certified to ride on the motorways. This includes hours of testing and skills practice.

        My thoughts regarding "oh noes, the cost!!!" - it would just be passed on to the customer. Would it outrage a lot of peopl

      • by T Murphy (1054674)
        Quick solution: use these simulators for a separate certification that gives you a substantial break on insurance. Private companies can buy the simulators, offer courses and administer the certification. Proper inclusion in the DMV can come later, especially as the price on the simulators comes down.
        • by jxander (2605655)
          I like it. It's certainly the most realistic solution. Possibly even have the sims purchased by the insurance companies themselves. Some bean-counter could math it out and make it work, might even weigh on insurance decisions and/or be useful ammo between insurance companies "Our driver was SIM certified, so clearly your driver was at fault. Pay up"

          Still a lot of people that would need to be convinced, but this is at least somewhat in the realm of reality

    • by ethanms (319039)

      Does the driver stop for pedestrians in unmarked crosswalks?

      What's an "unmarked crosswalk"?

      Wouldn't a crosswalk, by definition, be "marked"? So do you really mean "pedestrians crossing without a crosswalk?" or "jaywalkers"?

      • by Politburo (640618)
        No. Unmarked crosswalks exist at many intersections. Use Google. Varies by state, I'd imagine.
  • Here's a clue... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox (741991) on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @08:47PM (#40850735) Homepage
    Stop filling cars with stupid user interfaces for electronic systems that require close visual attention to use! Touch screens are stupid in cars - there's no tactile feedback so you HAVE TO USE YOUR EYES! I think GM are worse than Ford in this respect but they're all at it, even top-end marques like BMW and Mercedes.

    I want physical switches with positive tactile feedback whose function is clear and doesn't keep changing in different "modes" just because you're too cheap to provide a separate switch for different things. Cars of the 1960s with great big toggle switches on wooden dashboards were easier to drive than this.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 01, 2012 @09:21PM (#40851003)

      BMW has steadfastly refused to include touch screens, exactly because they require you to take your attention off the road to use. BMW uses a rotating joystick controller located near the shifter, and the UI is designed so that you can glance to and from quickly with little need to maintain context. They also insist on placing the screen very high in the dash to minimize the distance your eyes have to travel when glancing at the screen and maximize your peripheral vision while you are looking.

      They also have a full cockpit simulator where they do extensive driver attention studies. Say what you will about the iDrive system, but it gets top marks for minimizing driver distraction.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        European car makers for years resisted putting basic stuff like cup holders in because they didn't think you'd want to do anything but drive. Then some of them experienced north american traffic.

        The european mindset about cars has been much more about paying attention to the fucking road than trying to watch a DVD while you sit in a traffic jam for an hour, and that has given then a bit of a leg up on making sure everything you need to be on the road is well thought out.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          European car makers for years resisted putting basic stuff like cup holders in because they didn't think you'd want to do anything but drive. Then some of them experienced north american traffic.

          Yes, it's particularly inexplicable that the closest thing that the W126 mercedes (S-class!) have no cup holders, just some of those little circles on the flimsy glove box lid that you could maybe put teacups on... but it's got three ashtrays. Now look, if you're thinking I might want to smoke, why not think I might like to drink, too?

      • Just recently my Lexus rental broke down so they stuck me in an S60 - The Volvo system was MILES above anything else I had driven from a minimal distraction and easy to use while driving standpoint. It had the option to turn off the display automatically when idle, a pushable scroll wheel on the steering wheel, and full telephone and climate control buttons. The NAV screen was also close to the top of the dash and the A2DP/Bluetooth was awesome. Too bad the rest of the car was complete suckage and poorly eq

        • In the Z4 I rented, I couldn't figure out how to turn the damn screen of... you should be able to turn off the backligfht at night!!

          It can be turned off (or dimmed) in my 2007 BMW under Settings | Display, if memory serves. (Settings is accessed by pressing the dial down, rather than "bumping" it like all the other menus.) I mapped that function to one of the steering wheel controls for the precise reason you gave, so with a press of the button it turns on/off at night.

      • by ethanms (319039)

        BMW has steadfastly refused to include touch screens, exactly because they require you to take your attention off the road to use. BMW uses a rotating joystick controller located near the shifter, and the UI is designed so that you can glance to and from quickly with little need to maintain context. They also insist on placing the screen very high in the dash to minimize the distance your eyes have to travel when glancing at the screen and maximize your peripheral vision while you are looking.

        They also have a full cockpit simulator where they do extensive driver attention studies. Say what you will about the iDrive system, but it gets top marks for minimizing driver distraction.

        My Honda beats anything BMW has--it has only four controls:

        - Volume Knob (left for less noise, right for more noise)
        - Seek (doesn't matter if you push up or down as long as you always press the same one)
        - Fan (left for less fan, right for more fan)
        - Temp (left for less hot, right for more hot)

        Done.

        No "holding context" in your mind like someone else mentioned about iDrive. No screen in your face. etc. It's very simple and frankly when you are driving a car that's how it should be... I cannot fathom how we

        • I don't know which BMW you were comparing with, but mine has the exact same controls you mentioned: Dials for volume and temperature, and buttons for seek and fan.

          I don't agree with the GP that "iDrive...gets top marks for minimizing driver distraction" either, but your assessment about requiring a screen and having a dozen buttons is wrong.

    • Cars of the 1960s with great big toggle switches on wooden dashboards were easier to drive than this.

      I flew into quite a few of those dashboards as a child, since seatbelts weren't in half the cars then. Plus if they were, we never wore them.

      • by GrahamCox (741991)
        That's why they're called "dash-boards", it's the board you get dashed against in a crash....
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Stop filling cars with stupid user interfaces for electronic systems that require close visual attention to use!
      ...

      Cars of the 1960s with great big toggle switches on wooden dashboards were easier to drive than this.

      MyFord Touch was such a hit that Ford chose not to include it standard on their best selling product: the F-series of trucks.
      Why? Because it was a glitchy mess and they could not afford to jeapordize sales of the best selling truck in America.

      For 2013, they're including MyFord Touch standard on some of the premium trim packages,
      but it's a modified layout with redundant buttons and knobs for climate and radio/cd control.
      The fact that Ford is unwilling to go full retard on their line of trucks makes me wonder

    • by ashpool7 (18172)

      You pretty much nailed why they are pushing this, but they're not going to listen. That's why this simulator exists. It's to fix the problem that was created by solving the problem of "make this car cheaper."

      The higher end cars have more features, and therefore even more switches. That's why iDrive came before MyFordTouch. It's also a crappier experience (more steps to do the same thing), but they're not going to back to more buttons, because that would ruin margins.

    • by DrXym (126579)
      Tesla are going to stick a 17 inch (!) tablet in the middle of their Model S. This is the most reckless sounding idea I've ever heard of. I assume Tesla haven't completely lost their minds and will put limits on what the tablet can do while the vehicle is in motion. But some functionality will have to remain - satnav, call handling, hands free, weather, radio, music etc. Packing so many distractions behind in a flat glass interface that can only be operated by looking directly at it is a recipe for disaster
  • by Lumpy (12016)

    Cellphone Jammer enabled al any speed above 10 mph. washer fluid squirts in the eyes when they look down for more than 3 seconds. brakes jam on and airbag deploys at 5X normal force when they change lanes without looking and a motorcycle is detected next to the car.

    Electrical jolt from the steering wheel and seat voltage increases with speed and proximity to the car in front of them. Tailgaiting gets you 160,000 volts at 400HZ AC.

    Lastly built in taint puncher built into the seat what is triggered every

    • I hate talking/texting and driving as much as the next guy, but I want my internet radio on my phone while I drive. I don't need to touch/look at it for that, and a cell jammer would stop that from being possible. Maybe if they can block the calls without blocking the 3G...hell, I'd have it on all the time with me, so I can use data but no annoying calls.

    • by LocalH (28506)

      Here's why your answers are bunk:

      1) Cell phone jammers are illegal. They will also prevent emergency personnel from getting the calls they need to get. Or do you think that emergency personnel shouldn't be able to drive?

      2) Squirting washer fluid in the eyes? Really? So you advocate blinding them even longer while the car is moving? Brilliant idea there, dumbass.

      3) Slam on the brakes and deploy the airbag? So now, not only does the guy behind them wreck, but you've possibly broken someone's neck.

      4) Electrica

  • They aught to put an original Shelby Cobra cockpit (or facimile) in this and sell it as the ultimate car racing game/simulator. All the Zuckerbergs of the world would lap it right up.
  • ...their baseline will be someone that knows they're being tested in a distracted driving simulator. They sure as hell won't be texting while putting on makeup, eating a cheeseburger, reading the paper and watching tv like they normall do.

    • If you RTFA you would know that the participants have no idea they are in a motion simulator, and only know that they are testing a car in a dome-shaped room with a car in it. They don't get to see the crazy robot legs, as they enter from a closed-off jetway.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        They still know they're testing a car though, why would they try and bring a cheeseburger with them or start trying to text. Demonstrating how stupid those things are is much about finding someone who belligerently believes they can, asking them to prove it, and watching them fail.

        • I have failed many times at eating and driving - every time it's because I give priority to the driving. The results have meant that often I have to change, clean my car, and often buy more food and try again, or finish eating when I get to my destination. I have on more then one ocasion stuck myself with the straw or almost ate a napkin instead of a fry.

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Solution: Test them for ~8 hours, and keep the simulator going while you hand them cheeseburgers/subs/drinks, etc...

      • If you RTFA you would know that the participants have no idea they are in a motion simulator, and only know that they are testing a car in a dome-shaped room with a car in it. They don't get to see the crazy robot legs, as they enter from a closed-off jetway.

        If you had any idea as to how peoples minds work, you'd realize that when they know they're being tested, they act in a dramatically different manner, which renders any testing results worthless. If you don't have a clean baseline, anything else you derive is meaningless.

    • Because that's what they'll be instructed to do. The idea of this isn't to try and ferret out bad drivers, it is to see what can be done to make cars safer for bad drivers. Bad drivers are a fact of life, we use technology to try and help.

      So Ford will do tests like "Please eat lunch while you do this simulation," or "We'll be sending you text messages to read and respond to." I suppose you could refuse to do as they ask but then they'll thank you for your time and get someone else.

      The whole idea is to delib

      • You have a gross misunderstanding of how peoples minds work. When people know something is happening, they behave differently. As a result, they have no observable baseline, since the whole thing smells of Schroedingers Cat. The driver is both distracted and not distracted. If you watch and the subject knows you're watching, you have no idea what the state would be if you weren't.

        Do you really think the subjects will pick their nose and eat it, scratch that funny thing under their ass cheek, or any of t

        • What I think is that the researchers that built and run this thing understand human behaviour, and the data they can get, a little better than you.

          • And I think they understand it about as well as you do. I guess my experiences over several decades running marketing for a fortune 50 company might leave me a little shy in experience regarding human behavior.

            The core problem with these sorts of studies is that when a person knows they're being tested, they behave differently. Since you cannot establish a reasonable baseline, you cannot effectively measure benefits or changes.

            A popular study done a few years ago illustrates this quite well. A group of p

  • ....that simulates arseholes looks like.
  • To be a 'Darwinian statistic', wouldn't you have to somehow contribute to your own death in a stupid way. Is the author acknowledging that he is stupid enough that he would die if other people weren't constantly looking out for him?
  • by Beeftopia (1846720) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @12:16AM (#40852173)

    With 30-thousand some traffic fatalities a year, it would be well worth it.

    I mean, there are like 20-30 some common scenarios that kids could be faced with in the simulator. Experiences they could have without being actual near misses. Or hits, like the unfortunates who don't make it, or are maimed. You get your driver's test after you've completed all the scenarios and have done actual driving time.

    Experienced drivers are better because of their experience and near misses over the years.

    It would save a lot of lives.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 02, 2012 @02:08AM (#40852717) Homepage

    Here's the National Advanced Driving Simulator, [uiowa.edu] which is in Iowa. This not only has a Stewart platform, the Stewart Platform is mounted on an X-Y table about 60 feet square. Toyota has an even bigger one with over 100 feet of linear travel.

    The need for huge linear travel comes from the need to simulate the feeling of a hard stop. To some extent, deceleration can be simulated with tilt. But at the end of a stop, deceleration suddenly ceases without a change in attitude. You can't simulate that with a Stewart platform. If you want to test people's behavior during hard braking, you need a huge simulator.

  • "Honey, I'm working late again today. Gotta get those TPS reports in by tomorrow morning."

  • Nothing could adequately simulate a brother and sister fighting in the back seat.

A method of solution is perfect if we can forsee from the start, and even prove, that following that method we shall attain our aim. -- Leibnitz

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