Your Car is the Arcade: Driving Simulator Uses Real Vehicle in Virtual Worlds

Tag Systems unleashes the untamed speed demon in all of us. And it’s completely safe.

Daredevils have an insatiable need for speed, but they play with fire when pushing their vehicle or driving abilities too far. Tag Systems offers a unique solution by transporting the motorist and their physical car to a virtual road, a first in driving simulation technology. Sensors collect real-time performance data on an actual automobile, giving you a first-person perspective in 3D world. Basically, you can accelerate, steer, and brake inside your own car as you would on the open road, but the vehicle is driving in place on steel rollers. This one-of-a-kind VR system allows drivers to approach 150 mph on renowned Formula 1 courses, compete in Fast and Furious-style drag races, or even cruise the surface of the moon. And the best part is that you’re driving your car, not the half-cabin, video game-like simulators of the past. You can really push your driving prowess to the edge in a completely safe environment. Still unconvinced of its unparalleled realism and awesomeness? Virtual speed demons, start your engines!

This video showcases the TS8000, Tag System’s most sophisticated unit. It begins with an overview of the concept and provides a brief description of how it all works (0:47). The steel rollers pick up torque, power, and braking data while twin lasers measure steering. All this is fed to a central computer, which syncs this information to a fully immersive environment projected on three massive screens that envelop the driver. The most practical applications are highlighted (1:23): pre-license education, practice for advanced drivers, and training special permits. These driving exercises are highly effective, because hazards are generated at will, honing driving proficiency in high-risk situations.

Education is all fine and good, but can I pretend I’m Mario Andretti? They get to the fun stuff at 2:44, with a speedster deftly maneuvering a race course. This is followed by the Drag Tag (3:07), a racing system meant to keep Vin Diesel wannabes off the street (see the video below for a more complete demo). It concludes with the Driving Proving Centre, where the Tag System’s virtual worlds are created by CGI wizards. Check out the virtual moonscape at 4:22!

The next video shows the Drag Tag racing system in full force. Multiple units are lined up side-by-side, pitting drivers against one another in a virtual race that make video games like Need for Speed or Gran Turismo look like child’s play. With Drag Tag, you can put your racing buddies to shame without making State Farm or Geico cringe.

Tag Systems even caught the eye of perhaps the world’s most famous car aficionado, Jay Leno. Recently, the TS8000 was featured on his website, Jay Leno’s Garage, as you can see in the video below. At 4:45, Jay bravely steps into his yellow Corvette to give the Tag System a whirl. You can tell by his facial expressions and quips that he’s really digging it. The Tag System evokes a physical response in Jay at 7:08 as he navigates a parking garage. While this speaks to the realism of the system, this feeling arises because of a lack of G-forces when hugging the turns. Maybe a tilting mechanism could somewhat compensate for this? Tag System’s general manager says prior trials have shown that the body adjusts to this after a few runs (8:10). As Jay reiterates at the end, this was only the first demo on US soil, so Americans shouldn’t dust off their ’69 Charger just yet.

For me, one of the most exciting things about Tag Systems is the ability to create an endless number of new courses and terrains for your vehicle. When the whole globe is accurately mapped in stunning detail, I think one day we’ll be able to recreate driving experiences for any location on the planet. Hopefully, Tag System graphics engineers will take advantage of this trend and continue expanding their catalogue of virtual environments. Who could resist speeding across serpentine roads atop the Great Wall of China?

This technology enters the scene at an interesting time in automobile history, when people could soon let computers take the wheel or link with other cars to generate collective, synchronous driving patterns. However, technology like the Tag System could help restore the visceral thrill of untamed driving by letting users drive how they want, wherever they want. Even the best drivers in the real world can’t drive like that on today’s crowded roads and highways.

But how long will the Tag System be relevant? If computers become better motorists than we are, it might be unnecessary for most people to sharpen their driving abilities on the Tag System. Also, virtual reality technology is improving all the time, and VR engineers of the future could replicate the realism seen in these videos without needing an actual car. Capturing the subtle differences between make and models will be challenging, so it might be awhile before this comes to fruition. In the meantime, Tag Systems technology will likely remain on the leading edge of driving simulators. You can bet I’ll be the first in line if a Drag Tag demo comes to my town. I wonder if my mom will let me borrow her car. :-/

Image Credit: Tag Systems

Video Credits:  Tag Systems, Jay Leno’s Garage

Sources:  Tag Systems, Jay Leno’s Garage