Virtual drivers and “human-centred design” in the vehicle of the future

The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens on 9 January 2017. The ESI Group, which is a world leader in virtual prototyping, will present the work it has carried out during collaboration with IFSTTAR’s Laboratory of Ergonomics and Cognitive Sciences applied to Transport (LESCOT). This work relates to both a “virtual driver” and a Virtual Human-Centred Design platform (so-called V-HCD).

“In the same way that in order to put a car on the European market it must undergo severe crash tests, before putting partially or totally automated vehicles on the market we need to be sure that the driving systems are robust under the most critical driving situations”, Thierry Bellet, a researcher at LESCOT explains. Automated vehicles will have to share the road with drivers who may be inattentive, tired and elderly, and whose driving is not always faultless. Thierry Bellet goes on to say that: “Validating such automated or semi-autonomous systems does not only involve checking that the vehicle brakes effectively when there is a pedestrian warning or that it slows down in adverse weather conditions. It is also important to know how the human driver and the technology will interact with each other in order to make sure that the automation of driving does not create new accident risks in the future. Therefore in order to better foresee the future, we need to digitally simulate the Human-Machine System (HMS) in its globality, making the driver model interact with virtual aid systems when both are immersed in traffic. Because ultimately, “we need to verify the overall reliability of the HMS, even when it is interacting with the environment, i.e. one or more vehicles which may or may not be autonomous”.

But there are hardly any driver simulation models on the market, and even fewer simulators that imitate the interactions between several drivers. What we need is a virtual simulation device which provides us with a better understanding of the needs and expectations of future end users, from the first stages of the technological design process.

This was how the virtual driver presented by ESI came into being, the outcome of many years of research on driver modelling and cognitive simulation conducted at IFSTTAR. When coupled with the ESI’s ProSIVIC software (itself the fruit of collaboration with IFSTTAR’s LIVIC laboratory), the V-HCD platform enables the designers of future ADAS to simulate multi-driver interactions, and analyse, for example, how an autonomous vehicle reacts when a driver moves back in suddenly in front of it or pulls out unexpectedly. In another case – when a vehicle in front of it brakes suddenly – should the system provide drivers with an auditory or visual warning to tell them to brake, or decide immediately to brake without involving the driver? It will be necessary to replay thousands of scenarios in order to identify the most critical situations in order to recommend the best response. 

Using the V-HCD demonstrator that ESI is presented at this year’s CES, two persons wearing virtual reality helmets will be able to try driving future vehicles with driving assistance systems. These users will be completely immersed in traffic environments and will be able to express how they feel: is the experience stressful or reassuring? How do the new driving aid systems affect their reaction capacity?



This immersive V-HCD platform is a tool that may be tailored to individual car manufacturers' needs, based on their ADAS and vehicle automation approaches.