Montana University gets world's best racing game

Maseratis: best crashed virtually
Maseratis: best crashed virtually

Happy playing Midnight Club LA on your PS3 and 42-inch plasma?

Then look away now, because once you've seen the Western Transportation Institute's new motion-based driving simulator you'll never want to go back to a mere rumble pad.

The Institute has spent $915,000 (£600,000) on one of the most sophisticated simulators in the world, using real vehicle bodies mounted on a motion platform and surrounded by a 240-degree arc of projector screens.

High definition driving

Sitting inside one of the simulator's vehicle bodies - either a Chevy Silverado pickup or Impala passenger car - gamers, er, we mean 'test subjects' can see wraparound computer-generated scenery, powered by six projectors, eight-foot-tall screens and several LCD monitors.

Even the vehicle mirrors work, thanks to built-in colour monitors, effectively giving drivers a 360-degree view of the simulated environment.

It takes a dozen computers to run the simulator, with several PCs just for displaying the scenery. Others run the virtual dashboard, vehicle physics, motion platform and the simulated traffic.

Then there's one computer for tracking the driver's eye movements and another for gathering the data used by researchers. Other computers and features can be added as needed.

Crash course

The simulator can represent environments as small as a few blocks or as expansive as a hundred-mile-long highway, complete with a fleet of computer-driven vehicles.

These autonomous vehicles behave just like real drivers (yes, that bad) and can be programmed to create traffic situations, such as crashes or near-misses.

The simulator should help researchers learn how drivers react to traffic simulations, and save money on road designs by allowing engineers to 'test drive' improvements as they would appear in the real world.

And probably do a bit of 'overtime testing' with some mates and a six-pack....

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.