01 June 2015 - World-leading virtual reality technology developed by Aurecon’s transport teams in Christchurch and Perth has recently been used to help train Red Bus drivers ahead of using the new Christchurch Bus Interchange.
Believed to be the first of such applications in the engineering industry, the forward thinking virtual technology encompasses a ‘life like’ design of the circular layout. This allows the drivers to become familiar with their new environment and consequently affords them a much safer and smoother transition.
Due to the relatively tight constraints of the circular interchange site, a unique design that requires drivers to use reverse driving methods was used to ensure the required number of bus services could be accommodated.
Paul McNoe, Chief Executive of Red Bus, said that the circular layout and reversing bus movements created uncertainty amongst the drivers before it opened.
“They were understandably nervous about how the new interchange reversing bus bays would operate within the circular design. We had to find a way to address these concerns before the interchange opened and to train new drivers before driving through the interchange for the first time. That is where Aurecon stepped in,” he said.
Shaun Hardcastle, HUB-id Technical Director for Aurecon, said that they were aware of the drivers’ concerns and having undertaken the interchange design and operational testing using a 3D computer model, they were keen to provide a solution.
“We had been experimenting with virtual reality technology, and after some testing, we were able to import the 3D model into a virtual reality environment that allowed the drivers to step into and become immersed within interchange design.
“By wearing a virtual reality headset, wherever they moved their head, the headset provided them with a full peripheral view as if they were actually within the interchange. With the addition of a steering wheel and pedals, we created a virtual reality driving simulator for the bus drivers to control and practise how to enter, manoeuvre to their specified bus bay, and exit the interchange from the driver’s perspective.”
A 2D bird’s eye video was also created and played within the Red Bus lunch room.
The virtual reality driving simulator is a combined package of hardware and software components.
• Key element #1: Virtual reality headset
The headset sits over the eyes of the user and displays an almost full peripheral view within the designed 3D environment. The headset communicates with a fixed tracker to monitor the position and movement of the driver’s head. When the driver rotates his/her head in any spherical direction, the driver sees at the same angle, within the 3D environment, at the same angle as their head movement.
If the driver moves their head left or right, up and down, or backwards and forwards, their view in the 3D environment adjusts accordingly. This allows the bus driver to feel fully immersed in the simulator.
• Key element #2: Other hardware tools
A hardware steering wheel is connected to the simulator as well as accelerator and brake floor pedals. The sensitivity of the controls are set as per the vehicle specifications and are the primary control mechanisms for the buses.
For the bus simulator, the acceleration and deceleration are set at lower values than a car, and the steering wheel requires more rotational turns than a racing configuration.
By using standard driving control equipment, rather than keys on a keyboard, the driver can control the bus without needing to remove their headset to find the correct key.
The sway of the bus during sudden movements is also captured as is the impact of the bus with objects.
• Key element #3: 3D computer model
The 3D computer model was developed by applying industry 3D design software to the architectural drawings of the interchange.
Using gaming engines, the model was adapted to allow for virtual reality capability. The more detailed aspects were then coded in, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and bus functionality, to produce the virtual 3D environment – this is the most time consuming element that fortunately can be done in-house.
The virtual reality headset and driving tools are connected to a single high specification desktop computer, which brings together these components within the 3D environment. The desktop computer displays what the driver can see so that an instructor can provide guidance.