Red Bus drivers have been training on world-leading virtual reality technology to prepare them ahead of using the new Christchurch Bus Interchange.
Due to the relatively tight constraints of the Interchange site, a unique design was used to ensure the required number of bus services could be accommodated in the new interchange.
The virtual reality driving simulator is a combined package of hardware and software items. The first key element is the virtual reality headset. This sits over the eyes of the user and displays a nearly peripheral view of the designed 3D environment. The headset tracks the position movement of the driver’s head so by the driver rotating his/her head in any spherical direction will allow the driver to see the 3D environment at same angle in the spherical direction. Furthermore if the driver moves their head left or right, up and down, or backwards or forwards, their view in the 3D environment adjusts accordingly. This allows the bus driver to feel fully immersed in the simulator.
A hardware steering wheel with functional buttons is connected to the simulator as well as accelerator and brake floor pedals. Their sensitivity was set as per the vehicle specifications and was the primary control mechanisms for the buses.
The headset and controls run off a single high specification desktop computer. The desktop computer allows the instructor to see what the driver can see within the headset.
Paul McNoe, chief executive of Red Bus, said that the circular layout and reversing bus movements created uncertainty amongst the drivers before it opened.
“They were understandably nervous about how the new interchange reserving bus bays would operate within the circular design. We had to find a way to address these concerns before the interchange opened and to train new drivers before driving through the interchange for the first time. That is where Aurecon stepped in,” he said.
Shaun Hardcastle, HUB-id Technical Director, for Aurecon, said that they were aware of the drivers’ concerns and having undertaken the interchange design and operational testing using a 3D computer model, they were keen to come up with a solution.
“Aurecon had been experimenting with virtual reality technology, and after some testing, we were able to import the 3D model into a virtual reality environment that allowed the drivers to step into and become immersed within interchange design.
“By wearing a virtual reality headset, wherever they moved their head, the headset provided them with a full peripheral view as if they were actually within the interchange. With the addition of a steering wheel and pedals, we created a virtual reality driving simulator for the bus drivers to control and practise how to enter, manoeuvre to their specified bus bay, and exit the interchange from the driver’s perspective.
“A 2D bird’s eye video was also created and played within the Red Bus lunch room to show the required movement of buses through the interchange. This is believed to be one of the first such applications of virtual reality technology in the engineering industry,” he said. The 3D computer model was developed by applying industry 3D design software to the architectural drawings of the interchange. Then, using gaming engines, the model was adapted to allow for the virtual reality capability. Lastly the more detailed aspects were coded in, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and bus functionality, to produce the virtual 3D environment.
Paul McNoe said that the Red Bus staff have been looking forward to the new interchange and been really enthusiastic about the opportunity to train using state of the art virtual reality technology.