Toyota simulator aims to eliminate traffic deaths

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SUSONO, Japan, Nov 26 (Reuters) Toyota Motor Corp unveiled on Monday what it called the world's most true-to-life driving simulator to help it develop new safety features and reach its ultimate goal of eliminating all traffic deaths.

In a demonstration of its latest safety technologies at its Higashifuji Technical Center near Mt. Fuji, south of Tokyo, the world's biggest automaker invited journalists to its new facility that creates a virtual environment to analyse driving characteristics under various conditions such as drunkenness and drowsiness.

The warehouse-sized structure features a dome-shaped pod perched atop a turntable on a track that slides in all four directions at angles of up to 25 degrees to mimic the sensation of accelerating, braking and turning in different directions.

The 4.5-metre-tall, 7.1-metre wide pod can contain any car model and is lined on the inside with a screen that shows a moving, wrap-around view of the surrounding environment, giving the driver and passengers the illusion of moving on the road.

Big carmakers such as Daimler AG and Honda Motor Co have similar simulators, but TOyota's is the first to move laterally and has the longest range of 35 metres front to back and 20 metres from right to left, engineers said.

''It still needs some fine tuning, but we aim to start putting it to use in earnest from next April,'' said Takashi Yonekawa, a senior staff engineer at the centre.

For the first time since the facility's completion in September, Toyota allowed reporters into the pod, also visible through a glass pane from an adjacent room. The moving graphics, a true-to-life representation of 64 km (40 miles) of road in a 6-square-kilometre section of the surrounding region, were real enough to make spectators feel queasy even when the pod was stationary.

The system will be used to analyse driver behaviour under different conditions to gauge what type of safety functions would be useful to reduce accidents in future cars, engineers said.

Toyota also demonstrated safety technology based on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), a safety system using global positioning system receivers and sensors to allow communication between cars and road infrastructure, pedestrians or other cars in an effort to avoid collisions.

Domestic rivals Honda and Nissan Motor Co are also working on similar technology, and the three carmakers plan to test the technology collectively sometime next year, Toyota Managing Officer Takashi Shigematsu said.

Top automakers are competing to develop cutting-edge safety technology also as a tool to lure customers with value-added features. Toyota has introduced its newest technology in high-end models such as the Lexus LS460 sedan, which it equipped with a pedestrian detection system last year.

Once the infrastructure is in place, new ITS-based safety features would be able to warn drivers when they are about to run a red light or stop sign, even braking automatically, or alert them of approaching pedestrians or cars in blind spots.

REUTERS SLD SSC1607

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