When you’re creating a driving simulator to train people in emergency services, there’s a lot riding on every decision you make – particularly in the early stages. Accuracy, believability, and flexibility are all key factors in the decision-making process.
Alistair Cumming understands this all to well. As head of International Business Solutions for Training at Babcock International, he knew that motion would need to be a big piece of the puzzle to get the level of immersion and believability he wanted.
“One of the key differentiators in deciding which simulator we would go with was the ability to integrate motion and a motion platform,” says Cumming. “We also wanted feedback through the steering wheel and platform. That was crucial for us to get the realism we needed in the simulator.”
At the start, the main challenge facing the company was that they didn’t have the capability or the information to build the simulator.
“Our business is focused on creating training opportunities, solutions and experiences,” explains Cumming.
Instinctually, he knew that to do this right and create an unparalleled simulation experience the company would need to look externally for the best capabilities.
“Our research led us to Motion Simulation who were an excellent fit to partner with with us to develop our simulator. Based in the UK, they were essentially into racing software and had obviously used D-BOX before. That was one of the reasons that we went with them,” declares Cumming.
To develop the software portion of the mandate Babcock engaged with another UK company that had previously worked with Motion Simulation. That essentially became the team that was used to develop the simulator.
THE BEAUTY IS IN THE DETAILS
To create a highly realistic simulation experience, the team created 167 miles of roadway. So if you approached a junction and decided to turn left it would take you into another route leaving nothing pre-determined.
That kind of flexibility is uncommon in this industry. “With the simulator and software we can program a route, which will take in various traffic hazards that you’ll encounter,” explains Cumming. “If we’re teaching a student about how to approach roundabouts, or junctions and they get it wrong, we can stop and replay the scenario so they can see their error. Then, they can start again or jump to another part of the 167 miles where there’s another similar junction.”
The advantage of having this level of detail is that the junctions can grow in complexity giving delegates the option to select a straight three-way junction or multiple junctions with traffic jams and more difficulty.
CURRICULUM IS KEY
As far as the curriculum is concerned, the most important thing for Cumming was that the exercises had to be an asset. That’s why they needed a motion platform.
To recreate realistic feedback, Cumming says they took a fire appliance onto an airfield and recorded various measurements and then constructed the software so the stopping distances and the turning were absolutely accurate to the actual appliance itself.
“If I hit the sidewalk I’ll feel the bump so the motion is exactly the same as if I really was going up on the sidewalk. If I hit another vehicle then I feel the impact of that,” says Cumming.
“We also keep a telemetry of the movements of the vehicle so we can tell the amount of pressure that is on the accelerator or when the driver applies the brake. In order to be realistic, it had to be configured so that if you touch something or drive up onto a sidewalk then you feel it.“
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
To achieve the best results, the company broke down the various competencies required for a blue light emergency services driver and created scenarios for each of those. “We’ve developed a method for training that gets you to competency quicker. In essence, we’ve taken an 8-day course and are able to deliver it in 5 days,” explains Cumming.
Initially, there was a lot of resistance to the use of their simulators in the community. Trainers were very skeptical of it. However, their perception changed through the experience of actually using the simulator.
Cumming believes the acceptance is coming from a combination of the curriculum they designed and the level of immersion. “Because it is so immersive they forget they’re in a simulator,” he says. “For example, if you say to someone stop, most delegates will actually check their rear view mirror and pull over to the side of the road because they feel like they’re actually driving a vehicle on a road. That’s how immersed they are in the experience. And the motion platform that D-BOX provided is key to achieving that.”