Driving Simulators – The Real Deal
When I attended El Camino Fire Academy we had a couple of old engines we used for driving and pumping water in the “yard”. Before cutting the new recruits loose on these massive vehicles, our instructors took us out to the local race track so we could learn how they handled. We practiced S-turns, parking, reversing, and emergency stopping.
While it was a great way to learn the handling of the Engine, instructors were limited to the various learning situations they could create with cones in the parking lot and the small size of the drill yard. One thing we definitely would not have opportunity to practice during our 10-week course was advanced emergency driving on public city streets. What we needed, was a computer simulator to learn the ropes of emergency response driving.
Enter the EMS WORLD EXPO, which I attended about a month ago here in Las Vegas. It was a fantastic expo with a huge number of learning courses and a great showcase of industry products & services. While walking the showroom floor, I was thrilled to come across two companies with advanced computer emergency driving simulators – “FAAC” and “Simulation Technology”. Welcome to the future of driving education!
I first sat down with Robert Raheb to check out FAAC’s LE-1500 law enforcement series driving simulator. With 5 massive flatscreens the entire simulator surrounded the field of view of the learner. While the graphics were not “state-of-the-art” battlefield 3 quality, the representation of the driving environment was indeed life-like. Robert provided a run-down of the features FAAC simulators utilized:
- Accurate replication of driving compartment
- Crown Vic or Charger real dash layouts
- Realistic handling/steering fidelity
- Immersive and dynamic environment
- Geometrically correct virtual world perspective.
With a push of a button on his iPhone, Robert could provide an external perspective to my vehicle demonstrating how instructors could change angles to better communicate situational awareness. With another button, Robert changed the weather of our scenario from bright and sunny to dark and rainy – explaining that now the tires would skid if I punched it too hard. Of course, FAAC has a whole line of models for your specific emergency training AND municipal needs.
Make sure to check out Robert’s white paper entitled “Creating Return on Investment: How One EMS Department Used Simulation to Reduce Liability and Create Systemic Change in its EVOC Program“. In the paper, Robert suggests that “by introducing students to the unique hazards associated with operating an emergency vehicle in a variety of situations, the program was able to provide real-life experience in a controlled environment that is repeatable, recordable, and immediately available for playback, critique, and instruction”. Learn more about FAAC.
Next I met with Darren Basch from Simulation Technology, a newer company that also had a complete line of driving simulators for emergency and municipal needs. I was really impressed by their full fire engine cab demo model that was lifted and complete with pump controls, which brought back memories of fire academy. I was surprised to learn the entire five-screen system was run off just one high-level PC!
Darren put me through a drive course before letting me loose on a Fire response call. While on the test course, Darren could quickly change the vehicle I was test-driving without needing to reload the entire system – so we could quickly compare skill needs between different vehicles. When I was put into the response call, motorcycles would cross my engine out of nowhere, trucks would complicate my path-finding and rain would make my field-of-view harder to see. Interestingly, on-screen mirrors reflected what was behind the engine which allowed me to constantly check my physical surroundings as best I could.
Driving Simulators from Simulation Technology included these unique features:
- Custom cabs to drive the same cabs you drive every day.
- Real vehicle dynamics that enable advanced skills training.
- Actual integration of Manufacturer’s physics data, providing accurate vehicle dynamics.
- 230 degree field-of-view perspective.
- Single PC system
Just like in healthcare simulation with manikins and high-fidelity environments, advanced technology allows for an additional step in the traditional training model: see one, simulate one, do one, and teach one. It was a lot of fun to sit down with both FAAC and Simulation Technology and learn about the future of driving simulation.