Reality check? More like virtual reality check! Did you know Ford has a state-of-the-art VIRtual Test Track EXperiment (VIRTTEX) simulator from which to check real-world driving scenarios and then develop and test out future safety and driver-aid technologies? The VIRTTEX name alone sounds pretty cool, but wait’ll you learn how Ford utilizes it.
First, a brief backgrounder: Ford is the only North American automaker with a high-fidelity, motion-based simulator featuring a spherical dome on top of a hydraulic system to mimic vehicle movement. The simulator was developed in 2001.
In 2003, Ford conducted one of its first driver-distraction studies in VIRTTEX, which measured a driver’s failure to detect safety-relevant events while doing visual or manual tasks such as retrieving voicemail on a handheld cell phone.
Recent upgrades to VIRTTEX include improved image rendering technologies and capabilities to study driver performance. It has also expanded to include a high-resolution, digitally projected 360-degree horizontal field-of-view to test and measure driver acceleration, braking and steering. Overall driver reactions to various conditions factors in, too.
The improved imagery creates the most realistic scenarios thus far, including other traffic, pedestrians and landmarks alongside the roadway, and Ford engineers hope to respond with technologies that can warn drivers of imminent collision, drowsiness and other potentially dangerous scenarios behind the wheel.
How exactly would the safety systems warn you, the driver? You’ve asked a good question: Numerous types of alerts are being researched, including audible, visual and tactile as well as vibrating to see whether they are most effective alone or in combination.
VIRTTEX has already helped in the development of heads-up displays, drowsy driver alerts and lane departure warning technology soon to be available on the all-new Ford Fusion.