Human Factors Division Driver Interface GroupImage
University of Michigan About Partner Research Publications News
Transportation Research Institute
Driver Interface Group Home
Human Factors Courses
Publications & Projects
  List of Our Publications
  List of Our Projects
Safety & Usability Resources
  Telematics Guidelines
  Driver Distraction Links
Facilities & Staff
How to Work with Us
  Funding Mechanisms
  Arranging Research
  Nondisclosure Agreement
   Visiting Scholars
  Who to Contact
  Directions to UMTRI
Page updated August 20, 2008

Driving Simulators


UMTRI has 2 fixed-base driving simulators that share the same room, cab, and display hardware, but use different computers and software. The newest simulator, developed by Globalsim, will be the most commonly used of the two. UMTRI's Macintosh-based legacy simulator was developed primarily by those in the Human Factors Division. Both simulators have or will be used for studies of in-vehicle devices (navigation systems, cell phones), driver workload, the effects of health on driving (e.g., Alzheimer's disease, driver age), and other topics.

GlobalSim Simulator

Video Of Simulator

UMTRI's primary driving simulator is the GlobalSim DriveSafety Research Simulator ( To some, GlobalSim is better known by its former names, KQ Technologies and Hyperion Technologies. The Globalsim product is found at most of the top tier universities in the U.S doing driving research, as well as at GM, Delphi, and Motorola. The user interface for the simulator runs on a Windows PC, which turn communicates with a host computer running Linux, and four other Linux computers, 1 per image channel. To provide reliability, all key simulator components have uninterruptible power supplies.

The driving simulator has a full size vehicle cab with a touch screen center console, a computer-controlled, projected LCD speedometer/tachometer cluster, operating foot controls, and torque motor to provide realistic force feedback. The in-cab displays are controlled by Macintosh computers running BASIC, software that can also generate directional in-cab sounds. Those sounds are presented by a 10-speaker system from a Nissan Altima, supplemented by a 4-speaker system for road sounds. Other speaker systems are provided for demonstrations and development. To provide realism, the cab has limited vertical vibration, and for use in warning systems, a haptic feedback seat.

Road scenes are projected on 3 forward screens almost 16 feet from the driver (120 degree field of view) and a rear channel 12 feet away (40 degree field of view). Each channel is 1024x768 and updates at 60 Hz. Simulated worlds are created using tiles (as in SimCity). There are about 250 tiles in the library, including scenes from rural, urban, residential, industrial, and expressway settings including intersections with programmable traffic signals. All roads comply with AASHTO and MUTCD standards. Scenes are currently daytime only, though bad weather (fog, rain, snow) can be simulated. Traffic is programmable, either following the general rules of the road or as scripted. The vehicle dynamics can be changed.

Driver and vehicle performance (steering wheel angle, speed, lane position, etc.) are recorded at up to 30 Hz by the main simulator computer, and performance on in-cab tasks is recorded by the Macintoshes. In addition, driver actions (their face, hands, the instrument panel feet and foot controls) and parts of the road scene can be recorded by an 8-camera video system onto a quad split image. Control is achieved using 8x4 and 16x16 video switchers, and a 12x4 audio mixer.

Simulator Video

The following video (approx 4 minutes long) shows two situations typically experienced in the simulator; an intersection, and highway driving. The video shows multiple perspectives from both inside the vehicle from the driver's perspective as well as an overview showing the front 3 video channels from outside the the vehicle.
Low Quality Video (1Mb) for Dial up Connections
High Quality Video (12.5Mb) for High Speed/LAN Connections
To view the video, you must have Real Player 10.0 or greater installed on your computer. To download the newest version of Real Player, please click HERE. Apple Users: Please hold the control button when clicking the link above. This will save the file to the desktop and you can run it from there.

  Simulator Road Scene

 68 K 
An example urban scene with traffic lights. In the real scene the traffic lights change as programmed and the clouds and traffic move.

  Simulator Alternat Road Scene

 152 K 
Scene from behind the cab. When properly aligned, the seams in the scene are only a minor flaw. The object on the roof of the cab is a narrow angle light to illuminate the cab.

  Simulator Buck and Wall

 224 K
View from the control room, with only the center channel on. From right to left are the main simulator computer, the speedo/tack cluster computer, and 1 of the 2 desk monitors (capable of showing any image from any channel).

  Simulator Buck Interior

 264 K
Video and audio distribution and recording systems. Each of the 16 primary video input channels is displayed.


 312 K
Main simulator computers (five Linux computers) along with KVM switches and some of the Macs.

  Simulator Quad Video Image

 40 K
Typical quad split image. Usually we record the forward scene, the driveršs face, the center console, and the speedometer/tachometer cluster, but there are 12 other images available

So far, this simulator has been or will be used for studies of road departure and curve warning systems (examining audio, visual, and haptic warnings) and cell phone dialing as a function of device and workload. Studies of workload managers are being planned.

For further information see:

Anonymous (2002). New Driving Simulator, UMTRI Research Review, April-June, 33(2), 1-5.

Macintosh (Legacy) Simulator

In the past, all of UMTRI's simulator work used a low-cost, moderate performance, fixed-base driving simulators running on a network of Macintoshes. That simulator will be reconfigured to use the same video projection system and torque motor as the new simulator. This simulator will have a single video channel only, showing a 40 degree field of view of 2-lane roads with scriptable traffic and road signs. Roads and the vehicle dynamics are programmable. The simulator provides multi-channel sound, torque feedback on the steering wheel, and vertical vibration. Though this simulator has fewer features than the new simulator, it is more reliable and easier to program.

For more information see:
MacAdam, C.C., Green, P.A., and Reed, M.P. (1993). An Overview of Current UMTRI Driving Simulators, UMTRI Research Review, July-August, 24(1), 1-8.
Olson, A. and Green, P. (1997). A Description of the UMTRI Driving Simulator Architecture and Alternatives (Technical report UMTRI-97-15), Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Green, P. and Olson, A. (1997). A Technical Description of the UMTRI Driving Simulator Family-1996 Implementation (Technical Report UMTRI 97-12), Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Green, P. and Olson, A. (1996). Practical Aspects of Prototyping Instrument Clusters, (SAE paper 960532), Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers.

  Simulator Road Scene

 160 K 
A standard road scene from the simulator. The geometry, presence of objects and cars, colors, and sky image are all configurable.

  Simulator Alternat Road Scene

 160 K 
An example of alternate road colors and backgrounds. This scene simulates a course at the Texas A&M airport.

  Simulator Buck and Wall

 128 K
This is a picture from behind the buck. The projection system is also visible. We use a LCD panel with an overhead projector. This allows easy repair, aiming, and replacement. The "screen" is retro-reflective highway sign material donated by 3M.

  Simulator Buck Interior

 96 K
Inside the buck. The instrument panel is back-projected with an LCD projector mounted under the hood. Our touchscreen is visible in the center console. It can be masked off for reduced interface area or covered with a white panel for slide projection.


 128 K
These Macs generate the images the driver sees. The one on the left houses the main engine and handles graphics, auto dynamics, and torque motor control. The right-hand computer generates the instrument panel scene.

  Simulator Equipment

 128 K
These are the Macs that coordinate sound and traffic in the simulated environment. Also visible is the sound rack that houses the controls for the audio system. This includes the amplifier and control for the Aura Bass Shakers that provide z-axis vibration.

  Simulator Quad Video Image

 96 K
We have the ability to record experiments on video. This quad image has the console, road scene, driver's face, and instrument panel selected. Videotapes provide additional insight beyond the driving and interface data collected by the computers.