New simulator for new generation of drivers

A high-tech driving simulator developed in New Zealand for New Zealand driving conditions could make young Kiwis more proficient when they get behind the wheel of an actual car, and help address the social cost of youth-related road crashes.

To be piloted in secondary schools in Mid and South Canterbury during 2021, the simulators are being developed by Dunedin-based Gfactor Technologies.

They are co-funded by CODE (NZ Centre of Digital Excellence) and commissioned by Venture Timaru, Timaru District Council and Fulton Hogan.

The goal is a virtual reality driving experience without the cost, risk, and stress of actually driving.

The initial focus will be on driver distractions, and additional functionality will be added over time with the help of student feedback. Upon full development, the simulators have potential application in schools nationwide.

The simulator creates a three dimensional experience of driving on ‘actual’ local roads, with the traffic and distractions encountered there.

A reward and penalty system will allow drivers to track improvements across various aspects of driving, for higher levels of skill and awareness.

Establishment director of CODE, Tim Ponting, says the project has major social and economic benefits, built around cutting edge games technology and a fun experience for learner drivers.

“As such, CODE and the independent funding panel gave it wholehearted support, and we’re thrilled to play a part in bringing it to life.”

The Gfactor team have been developing the graphics technologies, artificial traffic systems, and the various functions required to deliver high end, real-life simulated experiences via their CoDrivr programme.

Prototype projects in motorsport and off-road training have given the Dunedin company a strong foundation in virtual product development.

Gfactor chief executive Rhys Gardner says they were unable to find anything internationally that matched New Zealand road conditions and set about building a New Zealand solution themselves.

“This is as near to the real experience as you can get without actually driving a car – and we’re ecstatic to be working with some very progressive partners who share our vision for engaging the young and enhancing their driving skills.”

Young driver-related vehicle crashes take, on average, 130 young lives and cause more than 1000 serious injuries every year in New Zealand.

This has an all-up social cost of $2.09 billion per year.


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