Text by Eric Tipan, Photos from Toyota
Gamers who’ve spent countless hours, and more importantly — a lot of money, for a home PS4 racing simulator setup will swear by its pin-point accuracy with each input and every feedback from the game.
Unfortunately for you, there is one system out there that rivals even NASA with its level of precision and real-feel, and since it wasn’t made with Gran Turismo in mind, you may never, ever get your hands on it (insert bawling emoticon here).
For starters, it is not simply a seat, stick shift and a steering wheel. In fact, it is a whole car that is inside a dome, located in a facility contained in a warehouse the size of a hangar.
If you already feel like trashing your gaming setup, wait, because I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet. Without further ado, let’s talk about the plainly, yet aptly named, Toyota Driving Simulator.
Housed in the Active Safety Research Laboratory at the Toyota Higashifuji Technical Center is arguably the world’s most advanced, not to mention most expensive (although Toyota declined to reveal production cost of the unit), driving simulation system by any automaker.
A shiny mobile dome 4.5 meters high with a 7.1-meter diameter houses a full-sized Lexus LS test unit, complete with an operable steering wheel, shift knob, pedals and other buttons and switches.
In place of wheels are mounts connecting it to a 330-degree turntable to simulate left and right turns and a vehicle vertical vibration system to mimic road harshness.
To create the visual simulation, the wall inside the dome is made up of a 360-degree spherical screen that takes images from eight liquid crystal projectors to form a three-dimensional seamless image that is faithful down to the tiniest detail.
Outside, the dome sits on a hexapod suspension that tilts it by up to 25-degrees while moving left or right on a horizontal rail that can move forward or backwards.
How does it work?
To ensure accurate simulation, the driver’s eye-point is adjusted at the center of the dome so that the projected image and the movement of the turntable are perfectly synchronized.
Recorded noise of an actual running car is reproduced three-dimensionally and broadcast inside the dome to simulate ambient noise.
In order to simulate the feel of motion, Toyota gave the dome the world’s largest moving range of 35 meters by 20 meters with a maximum XY axis acceleration of 0.5G and velocity of 6.1 meters per second using twenty-four 100HP electric motors.
Working in perfect harmony, the Vehicle Motion System (XY axis motion, the hexapod yaw and the vehicle vertical vibration system), the Cockpit System using the Lexus LS, and the Visual System (audio, screen and the projectors) realistically reproduces the sensation of turning, acceleration/deceleration, actual road conditions and ride comfort at all times.
What happens inside?
The Lexus LS test could only seat one, which was the technician, since all space was taken up by equipment and we couldn’t open any of the other three doors as cables sending and receiving data poured out of every window.
We were asked to grab a hold of it before the demo started to avoid getting disoriented and falling over.
The size of the screen really hits you as you get inside and with the LS in the middle, there isn’t really that much space left, which makes the screen appear larger.
Save for the cartoonish rendering, the depiction of everything in the image is visually exact, down to the last millimeter and everything from the slightest rumble during startup is felt from vibration actuators.
Rapid acceleration makes you step back, you lurch forward when it abruptly brakes and you even feel the vehicle yaw as it negotiates a turn.
What can it do?
Any town and traffic environment, any Toyota or Lexus model and in whatever type of road and climate conditions, if it exists on Earth and can be programmed, you can drive it in the Toyota Driving Simulator.
It monitors driver reaction, response time, brain waves and heart rate, plus it can also imitate human error and other problems that may cause car crashes like distracted driving, DUI, fatigue and drowsiness.
By studying data gathered from these and future tests, Toyota develops and updates their active safety systems to reduce, if not eliminate, deaths from vehicular collision and maybe even accidents altogether.
As well suited as this awesome rig is to deliver the best racing simulation ever, it was meant for so much more — to save lives, one simulation at a time.