Traditional auto safety research and development has helped make modern automobiles among the safest in history, driving the development of significant advances in passive safety technologies such as SRS Side Airbags and driver support functions like Vehicle Stability Control. The resulting vehicles help to protect vehicle occupants from external risks, including car crashes and inclement weather conditions, better than ever before.

But despite the advances made to vehicle design and safety engineering, comparatively little progress has been made in combating the single greatest cause of accidents on the road today: human error. Auto industry data shows that 93% of all accidents are the result of simple errors in a driver’s ability to recognize a situation and make the right judgment. However, to date, it has been difficult to analyze these risks and develop systems that can help drivers avoid causing an accident.

At the state-of-the-art Higashi-Fuji Technical Center, Toyota is working to revolutionize the testing of driver behavior with one of the world’s largest experimental facilities to simulate actual driving scenarios.

What is the Toyota Driving Simulator?

Enclosed in a large dome, a spherical screen displays high-resolution images that stretch 360 degrees around a driver. The machine reproduces the sensations of actually driving a car, including road vibrations and road and wind noise. To help ensure the realism of the driving experience, the entire testing chamber is mounted on a hydraulic lift that shifts and pivots to reproduce the feeling of acceleration and deceleration, as well as the sensation of driving around a curve. In fact, the sensation is so lifelike that users often need to be reminded that it is just a simulation.

But despite all its cutting-edge technology, the world reproduced inside the Toyota Driving Simulator is one that would be very familiar to most people. In fact, instead of creating dramatic driving scenarios and situations, the simulator is designed to reproduce the everyday conditions that serve as the background to most accidents, including the scenery that people usually see when driving to work or traveling on holiday.

By studying driver behavior in everyday life and analyzing the errors made under normal driving conditions, Toyota is collecting a new kind of enhanced data that can help make car accidents an even smaller part of everyday life in the future.

How is the Driving Simulator Different?

The Driving Simulator makes possible an entire class of experiments that would otherwise be impossible, even in the controlled environment of a test course. The system allows engineers to safely test hazardous driver behavior such as falling asleep at the wheel, looking away from the road, and even driving under the influence.

Because the conditions are simulated in a closely controlled environment, engineers can also actually see what a driver is seeing by using technologies like eye gaze measuring devices. They can also measure maneuvers performed on the steering wheel, accelerator and brake in fine detail. In fact, the testing facility is so advanced it allows the collection of brain wave and heart rate data that can analyze a driver’s psychological and physiological state.