There have been virtual reality elements in driving tests around the world for more than a decade. In the UK, short virtual reality clips are presented to drivers so that they can identify potential hazards that might not otherwise surface during a practical test, while students from Liverpool John Moore’s University are developing a virtual reality driving instructor.
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, is developing virtual reality driving instructor technology for use in China where the number of learners outstrips the facilities to teach them.
Formula 1 and other racing drivers already use VR to hone their skills, and the prevalence of more affordable headsets means that you can even enjoy a virtual reality driving experience in your own home.
Car manufacturers have adopted the technology to enable potential buyers to test drive their vehicles without having to leave the comfort, or safety, of the showroom.
Since 2002, the UK has used VR in its driving tests, as part of a hazard awareness test. Participants are given a series of short videos and have to press the mouse button as soon as they witness a potential hazard. Higher marks are awarded for recognising a possible threat sooner, and those taking these tests must score at least 44 out of 75.
Hazards can include anything from cantering horses to obscured road entrances. At the time of the launch of the new test element, Gary Austin, chief executive of the driving standard agency, said “Hazard perception testing will encourage learner drivers to spend more time developing danger-awareness skills.”
Elite drivers also use VR for training purposes. Rally drivers and Formula 1 driver are known to hone their skills using complex virtual reality setups.
Rather than using the technology to master car controls, however, they tend to use virtual reality to learn the most effective way around a lap or course. This can be especially useful for tracks that are not accessible throughout the year.
Racing driver Dominic Dobson created a company called VR Motion, primarily to enable himself to practice on tracks and courses like Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak is a hill climb and is not available as a race track for the rest of the year.
Formula 1 teams are known to invest heavily in VR because it enables drivers to learn tracks without having to transport cars, drivers, and teams to the track, which will have limited access because a lot of tracks are open to the public when not being used for races.
It isn’t just professional drivers that are using this type of VR technology, either. Liverpool John Moores University, again in the UK, has developed VR software that emulates a local town’s road network. The software has been taught to reproduce traffic levels, pedestrian behaviour, and a variety of different weather conditions.
In 2015, Toyota announced that they were partnering with VR company Oculus, to create a VR system that would enable teens to master driving skills. As well as recreating road and driving conditions, this system would also incorporate things like passenger noise and distractions from mobile phones. The system, called TeenDrive365, was deployed at motor shows and exhibitions around the US.
Using VR enables students to learn in a safe environment, with no risk to themselves or even the car they are driving. It can help to eliminate nervousness, as well as ensure the safety of everybody involved, and it can also reduce the cost of learning to drive.
A recent Kickstarter campaign has met its £15,000 target and will see UK police receive virtual reality videos of how to safely pass cyclists on the road. The Kickstarter campaign means that every police force in the country can be supplied with the video and VR headsets for free. The system has been trialled by West Midlands Police. Police monitored drivers, pulled over those that passed cyclists too closely, and had them use the VR footage.
VR is gradually spreading into every area of life. It is used in classrooms, allowing students to better experience real world environments that they wouldn’t normally be able to access. It is used in retail, in real estate, in engineering, and in a host of other industries. The prevalence of affordable headsets and hardware means that it is also becoming more popular in the home entertainment industry.
In the motoring world, VR is used to educate and train both professional and individual drivers. It is used for examination purposes, and companies are developing VR software that can also be used for training and road improvement.
Potential owners can also use VR headsets to try and test drive new models, to choose their trim, and to help make the decision of what car to buy. Alternatively, you can have a go at racing around a track in a supercar or hypercar.
VR already pervades the motoring industry and is becoming increasingly popular. As the technology improves and hardware gets cheaper, it is increasingly likely that the technology will be further incorporated into the training and examination of new drivers.
It could be used to give learners experience driving on motorways, or to test them in circumstances that don’t normally crop up during the course of a normal driving test.
VR-Simulators.com is a VR driving centre based in Glasgow city centre. They offer a full 5D racing experience, which combines virtual reality headsets with motion seats and wind generation software, to give a fully immersive experience.