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Iowa Driving Simulator becomes test lab for industry
IOWA CITY, Iowa Although it is better known for
its application to cars, the Iowa Driving Simulator has sprouted wings over
the past year.
Thats the word at the University of Iowa, where
one of the worlds most powerful driving simulators the eight-year-old,
$13-million Iowa Driving Simulator (IDS) is being used to test aircraft,
as well as an occasional military Humvee vehicle or Ford Taurus.
"Our real research focus isnt on a particular
vehicle. If a human being operates it, we can probably test it," says Bob
Schwing, who, for the past two years, has served as Chief Operating Officer
of the UI College of Engineerings Center for Computer-Aided Design (CCAD),
which operates the IDS. "Weve tested airplane controls in a simulated
environment, and we could well take on the operation of ships or trains."
In fact, flight simulation has already begun, through
a joint activity with Rockwell Collins Inc. of Cedar Rapids. Recently a group
of the firms researchers asked Schwing whether the simulator could be
fitted with an airplane cockpit. It wasnt long after that a mock-up of
a modern air transport-class cockpit was installed on the simulator platform
and the researchers had pilots rocking and rolling to some very realistic turbulence.
"Rockwell Collins was looking for a place to test
its systems, and we discovered that we had exactly the facility they needed,"
Schwing said. From Rockwells perspective, too, it was a perfect fit.
The fact that the simulator can accommodate aircraft
testing may be less surprising when one realizes that the IDS motion system,
donated to the UI by the U.S. Air Force, was designed to train B-52 pilots and
that Schwing is a former U.S. Air Force B-52 training system program manager.
However, the range of IDS research projects reaches far beyond the aircraft
Examples of IDS current projects include research to
examine the effects of strokes and Alzheimers disease on the driving ability
of older drivers and research to help automotive safety engineers design more
effective rear-end collision avoidance systems.
The simulator has a dome that holds a fully functional
car cab, which sits atop a hexapod-shaped, motion-base platform that moves as
operators maneuver through computer-generated terrain. The roadway and terrain
are projected around drivers inside the dome, giving them the feeling that they
are part of the environment. Schwing attributes the realistic environment to
the immersion of the operator in a synthetic environment with rigorous dynamics
presented through 190-degree forward field-of-view,
surround sound, and six-degrees-of-freedom motion. He adds that realism enables
the simulator to increasingly be used for testing by industry, as well as for
university teaching and research.
"CCAD and the driving simulator support the College
of Engineering mission by providing a tool for faculty research," Schwing
says. "We also offer CCAD tools for graduate students, and as a resource
to be responsive to the needs of industry. In the case of Rockwell-Collins,
this was an opportunity to help a local company who is in an international business."
"Were not just a computer-aided design facility;
we solve problems. Were not just a driving simulator. Were improving
the tools available to researchers. And were becoming a sort of test laboratory
for industry at a time when industry is cutting back on research and development
budgets," Schwing says.