LJMU students learn to drive with virtual reality driving lessons

Student using virtual reality driving simulator.

Students from Liverpool John Moores University are trialling cutting edge technology that will enable them to learn to drive without the use of a car.

The technology, called VR Drive, has been designed by Liverpool-based indie games design studio, Onteca, who teamed up with LJMU to create a revolutionary way of teaching young people to drive using virtual reality.

The tech team has designed a virtual reality copy of a town’s road network. Inexperienced drivers can pit their skills against machine learning technology, which creates a range of realistic driving situations including hazards, traffic density and pedestrians.  

LJMU identified and analysed patterns in traffic density, peaks and junctions. These were used to ‘teach’ VR Drive how to create a simulation of a road network.

By 2020 there will be 37 million more drivers on our roads (RAC, 2008). Young drivers (17-24) are 10 times more likely to crash than older drivers (The Young Drivers Direct Line & Brake Report on Safe Driving).

VR Drive enables younger drivers, who are already familiar with gaming and virtual reality technology, to develop the skills they’ll need to drive safely on busier roads in a safe environment. VR Drive will be downloadable on phone apps, consoles and available to use at driver education centres.

The system allows users to: 

  • develop road hazard recognition skills in a variety of environments and conditions
  • explore links between risk-taking behaviour and accidents
  • develop self-awareness about risk-seeking and impulsivity

Jon Wetherall, Managing Director of Onteca said:

“VR Drive gives young people the chance to develop their skills beyond weekly driving lessons, giving them the chance to practice areas they’re struggling with in their own time. The system can also build up a driver profile, which gives the human driving instructor information about skills they need to focus on in their weekly lessons - by identifying risk-taking or thrill-seeking behaviour, for example.”  

Stephen Fairclough, a Professor at the LJMU School of Natural Sciences and Psychology said: 

“We are working with Onteca on this project to understand how VR can be integrated into driver training, specifically teaching novice drivers to develop awareness of the hazards they will face on the road.  We have expertise in the measurement of driving behaviour that can be incorporated into the VR simulator. We will also run an evaluation trial of the software using students from our university. The evaluation trial will help us to understand whether exposure to the VR simulator enhances awareness of hazards and changes attitudes to unsafe driving.”

The system Onteca has created complements on-road driving practise, by using high-quality, game-style visual effects and Artificial Intelligence, to make the simulation as realistic as possible. This next generation Hazard Perception Training (HPT), will enable drivers to become better trained to deal with modern roads and their hazards.


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