GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN. One of the central tenets of Volvo’s historic legacy is its focus on safety. Engineers have focused on safety as a cornerstone value of the company since 1928 when one of the original nine trucks manufactured by Volvo crashed on its way to Gothenburg for testing.

See video of the simulator

Fast forward to now and the opening of a driving simulator, run by the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), here in Gothenburg, takes safety and driver analysis to a new level. The simulator is actually built for driver testing and can host either a truck cab or a car.

According to Martin Fischer, a researcher at VTI, the simulator is capable of replicating nearly any road condition using virtually any type of engine/vehicle combination, although testing is in the early stages since the facility’s opening in May of this year.

It takes about a day to switch between a car and truck setup. Volvo has supplied both a car and truck cabin for the simulator, which tests everything from driver reaction times to fatigue. Volvo hopes to one day use the simulator to test advanced vehicles that are able to communicate with other vehicles on the road.

For now, the OEM is using it to reproduce and analyze real-life situations, driver habits, and to aid in the development of advanced braking and steering systems.

One of the main advantages of the system, which cost nearly $3.5 million to build, said Fischer, is the ability to exactly recreate real-world conditions multiple times to get a better understanding of the situation and the driver’s reaction.

Once inside the simulator, believed to be the only advanced motion truck simulator in the world at this time, the “driver” operates the test vehicle as they would any other vehicle. Computer simulation – think the most realistic video game on the market and then go several steps further – creates the surroundings both in front and along the side of the driver. Even the mirrors operate as they normally would.

The technician is able to program in conditions, from hazards on the roadway such as vehicles that suddenly stop, to changing weather conditions, including fog, to challenge the driver.

The system uses an advanced motion system with nine projectors to record nearly every movement inside the simulator and the computer records data points for analysis purpose.

“All of the information in the simulator is saved so we can use it as a research (tool),” said Fischer.

Fischer added that all of the road conditions variables and vehicle operating information, such as horsepower and torque, axle ratios, and more, can be customized to match any vehicle on the road today.

The simulator program is part of VTI’s ViP (Virtual prototyping and assessment by simulation) program, designed to develop and apply driving simulator methodology to create safer drivers and vehicles.

Among the projects the center is working on are driver- and system-controlled heavy vehicle steering; secondary task workload; driving environmental design; sleep detection eye tracker; and drowsiness detection systems.