At the Lexus research campus in Higashifuji, Japan, the automotive company has created what it claims is the most advanced driving simulator ever built. It consists of a domed pod, 15 feet high by 20 feet wide (4.57 x 6.1 m), which moves on a series of interlocking motion tracks within a hangar the size of a football stadium. Inside the pod, a full-size Lexus car is mounted on a turntable, and surrounded by an interactive 360-degree high-definition audio-visual simulation of real world driving environments. By allowing test drivers to safely experience various sketchy driving scenarios, the company hopes to learn more about driver behaviors and reaction times before accidents, then incorporate those findings into new active safety features in their cars.
After assessing existing simulators in various research institutions, the designers from Lexus decided that theirs would need to be larger, and offer a wider range of motion.
That range is made possible by a three-axis six-strut hexapod mounting system for the pod, which lets it tilt in all directions. The pod also moves fore and aft and side-to-side, on the tracks that run across the floor. Altogether, the system can simulate speeds of up to 186 mph (299 km/h) and turn angles of up to 330 degrees.
The simulator not only presents different traffic scenarios, but can add in factors such as talking navigation systems, text message displays, and other electronic distractions. It can also simulate poor driving visibility.
Other simulators that have been hailed by some as the world’s most advanced, within the past year or two, have included Ferrari’s F1 system, and the University of Iowa’s NADS-1 (National Advanced Driving Simulator).
Ultimately, Lexus hopes that its simulator “will help move us toward a future where there are no accidents.” Definitely a lofty goal, but one that’s well worth shooting for.