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New Simulator Sharpens Skills on Unpaved Roads

By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2010 – Because one-third as many soldiers are killed in vehicle accidents as in combat, researchers are developing a training simulator that creates environments mirroring the challenges servicemembers face behind the wheel.

“Our work is focused on how wheeled vehicles behave on gravel, loose stones, mud, snow and ice, because these are surfaces where military vehicles frequently operate,” Barry Coutermarsh, a research engineer with the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab in Hanover, N.H., said in a March 10 interview on the “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” podcast.

Coutermarsh said today’s heavily armored vehicles have a higher center of gravity that makes them more susceptible to rollovers.

His colleague at the lab, Sally Shoop, said one key to improving safety is allowing drivers to exercise maneuvering in bad situations so they build up a muscle memory that can react automatically.

“One of the really important things to do in avoiding an accident is to look at where you want to go, not at the obstacle you might hit,” she said.

Professional race car drivers who help to conduct traditional Army driver training first came up with the idea that more soldiers would benefit if a portable, military-optimized driving simulator were available. The research program to develop that simulator is called SAVE, which stands for Synthetic Automotive Virtual Environments.

The first development phase involves capturing real data from specially instrumented vehicles to record every bit of contact with the ground. “It’s all about where the tire meets the road for real vehicles,” Shoop explained, “because that’s where the forces transmit from the terrain to the vehicle.” Programmers feed collected data into the simulator.

So far, test results have been promising. Shoop and Coutermarsh are seeking additional funding to expand trials.

“It would be nice to get some soldiers into the simulator and get their input,” Shoop said. She added that younger soldiers who are attuned to video games seem to enjoy learning in virtual environments. “Hopefully, we can train them to drive a vehicle better and they can have fun at the same time,” she said.

Beyond military applications, the researchers said the simulator could pay off in added safety for all road vehicles and that it could provide data to improve the way gravel roads are constructed.

(Judith Snyderman works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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