TRuck and CoachSimulator
Eureka project, Project Manager: Andras Kemeny
Partners – Renault, Thomson Training & Simulation, Prosolvia Clarus Ab, Autosim, AFT
Duration: 3 years, end of project: February 3rd, 1998
Article: Sofer lorry drivers with computerized training
Better, cheaper training for lorry drivers will be the result of EUREKA project EU 1238 TRaCS, which is bringing advanced computer simulation to road vehicles. The new simulator will help satisfy increasing pressure to improve the standards of Europe’s lorries and coach drivers.
In France, for instance, lorries number less than 2% of road vehicles yet are involved in 15% of fatal accidents. Training simulators could help to improve driving standards, but so far simulators for road vehicles have not been cost-effective.
Now innovative design and new computer technology have allowed the TRaCS participants to come up with a low-cost simulator that is also highly realistic. Though a full configuration version may cost more than a standard lorry, thanks to its flexibility it will provide training at a lower total cost.
In the last decade several companies and research institutions have developed automotive simulators – but only a few of them were dedicated to training, explains Dr. Andras Kemeny of project leader Renault. Some are designed purely for research, and most are far too expensive for commercial use.
Some simulators developed in the USA for truck training, for instance, cost up to FF10m. Another simulator from the USA costs only 240 000 dollars but has limited technical capabilities. The challenge for the TRaCS team has been to develop a fully-realistic simulator for the cost of FF1-2m.
Increasingly powerful PC computer technology has helped to make this possible. Whereas previously a state-of-the-art visual system would have cost up to 1 M dollars and required specialist workstations to run it, new PC-based technology can provide similar realism at much lower cost.
The motion system is another area of significant cost saving. Existing flight simulators use hydraulic motion platforms to move the lorry cabin in response to acceleration, braking and cornering. TRaCS uses a more cost effective electro-mechanical system instead to drive the six-axis motion platform.
“I have a truck license myself, and the simulator feels like the vehicle I trained on,” says Dr. Kemeny. The cab is taken directly from Renault’s new Premium range, and every dial and warning light works as it should. The steering and the 18-speed gearbox feel like the real thing too.
The simulator can alter its handling characteristics to mimic different road surfaces, or to show trainees the difference between an empty lorry and a laden one.
The driver has a full 210 degrees of vision on screens which can show many different types of scenery. There are narrow country roads, busy motorways and congested urban streets; different types and densities of traffic; and driving conditions including night, rain and snow.
Driver training is becoming increasingly important, especially in the safety-conscious countries of northern Europe. The TRaCS simulator is considerably more versatile than a real lorry especially since one instructor can now supervise several trainees.
The simulator can teach night driving during the day and winter driving in the summer. Trainees can practice driving in the summer. Trainees can practice driving on icy roads all the year round without the need for an expensive skid track. The simulator is also more consistent than a real lorry and can give detailed feedback on a driver’s performance.
The controlled and safe nature of the simulator environment means that trainees can be much more free to devise their own, with periodic advice from an instructor.
“A project like this needs an integrated team” notes Dr. Kemeny. “It’s no good having a design team made up entirely of computer specialists; you need people who understand trucks as well”. Being part of EUREKA helped attract funding, provided publicity and improved communications between the partners, he adds.
This vertically-integrated project brought together three companies who specialize in training simulators: Thomson Training and Simulation in France, Autosim of Norway and Clarus from Sweden. The lead partner, Renault, has previously designed its own simulator for research purposes and the group’s truck division also made an important contribution to the project.
The team also included AFT, a French national body concerned with driver training and a leading adviser to businesses. AFT will be one of the first customers for TRaCS when it is launched commercially. The prototype is due out in April 1997 and the commercial version will follow later in the year. VT&I, another member of the project, is already considering purchasing several units.
Scandinavia is expected to be another good market, and altogether Dr. Kemeny says that the partners plan to sell up to several hundred units in Europe over the next ten years – that’s quite a lot of safer drivers.