UT acquires simulator to drive autonomous vehicle research

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Photo Credit: Iann Karamali | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Center for Electromechanics recently installed a Cruden simulator to accelerate research into self-driving vehicles and automotive efficiency.

The simulator allows a driver to get behind the wheel in an adjustable cockpit that realistically moves in all directions. Auditory and visual stimuli are provided to the driver in real time by a 210-degree screen to model driving any vehicle in any condition. 

“This is the only simulator of its kind in a (United States) university,” said Junmin Wang, the director of the mobility systems laboratory.  “The driver will feel like he or she is driving in a real car on a real road.”

Mechanical engineering professor Junmin Wang said the model enables researchers to study the efficiency characteristics of vehicles, advanced driver-assistance systems and autonomous vehicles.

 

“An autonomous vehicle is a vehicle driven by another driver, who happens to be a machine,” Wang said. “Just as you may not like someone else’s driving, you may not like your machine driver.”

The simulator can run a scenario made from data collected by an actual self-driving car and measure a user’s acceptance levels to the machine’s driving style, Wang said. It can also send data from the simulator to the self-driving car for testing in the field. 

Zejiang Wang, a mechanical engineering graduate research assistant, creates the scenarios and generates inputs for the simulator. He said the simulator uses machine learning to extract data about each individual driver’s preferences, which he uses for design controls.

“In autonomous driving, you actually have to study human factors more, so you can achieve personalization or personalized control,” Zejiang Wang said. “Even if we buy the same car model, the driving assistance should be tailored to you.”

Junmin Wang said this simulator is more realistic and produces higher fidelity data than less sophisticated models, which can help facilitate additional research in other fields.

“We can use this facility to collaborate with different departments; For example: civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, psychology and medicine,” Junmin Wang said. 

Mechanical engineering senior Mark Jennings said he sees how the simulator could be used in his field of study, and he welcomes research into self-driving personalization.

“Autonomous research is also one of the biggest fields for robots,” Jennings said. “Solving one of the conundrums of self-driving cars might spill over into other applications of automation like human-robot interaction.”