Met­tle test­ing

Sim­u­la­tor gives truck­ies’ on-road skills a re­al­ity check

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Working Wheels - JAMES STAN­FORD james@stan­

THE steer­ing wheel tugs vi­o­lently to the left as a front tyre blows.

Against my in­stinct, I ac­cel­er­ate and get the truck back un­der con­trol be­fore eas­ing off slowly and com­ing to a halt.

Thank­fully, I won’t have to change the tyre as this is just a sim­u­la­tion. Wel­come to the McColls driver train­ing sim­u­la­tor, a $500,000 state-ofthe-art ma­chine that is in­cred­i­bly re­al­is­tic.

I’ve just com­pleted a steer­tyre blowout ex­er­cise, which is used to help re­mind driv­ers of the best way to re­spond.

Out of in­ter­est, I do it again and this time I jump on the brakes af­ter the tyre blows, the ex­act op­po­site of what you should do in the real world. In an in­stant, the tanker veers off the road and into the bar­rier. It’s a sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

McColls is one of Aus­tralia’s largest trans­port com­pa­nies and op­er­ates a fleet of more than 400 tankers that carry ev­ery­thing from milk to petrol.

Its CEO Si­mon Thorn­ton saw one of the sim­u­la­tors op­er­ated by driver train­ing group DECA and de­cided to go one bet­ter and get the lat­est and great­est model, run­ning the lat­est soft­ware.

The sim­u­la­tor, built by US com­pany MRI, is be­ing used to help im­prove driver safety and the com­pany’s man­age­ment is con­fi­dent it will also help slash fuel bills and re­duce driver train­ing costs.

McColls’ na­tional driver train­ing man­ager Ron Lewis ex­plains that be­ing able to sim­u­late a steer-tyre blowout in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment is a great ad­van­tage.

Most driv­ers have never had one, so we can sim­u­late it in here. That’s great be­cause it’s cer­tainly not some­thing you could or would want to sim­u­late on the road,’’ he says.

Other me­chan­i­cal fail­ures can also be sim­u­lated. We can do things like put in a brake drum fire. If they don’t pick it up (in the vir­tual rear-view mir­ror) it will get to the point where it locks up the wheel in the sim­u­la­tor.’’

The driv­ing sim­u­la­tor is es­pe­cially por­ta­ble as it is mounted in a cus­tom-built body on the back of a Volvo truck that needed a new home af­ter McColls closed its gen­eral freight divi­sion last year.

Its airbag sus­pen­sion means it’s per­fect for trans­port­ing the valu­able sim­u­la­tor to var­i­ous east coast de­pots.

The body is di­vided into two sec­tions, one is a train­ing room and the other houses the sim­u­la­tor, which is made up of a dash­board and three plasma screens in front of a seat and a Road­Ranger gear-shifter.

McColls’ trainer Colin Dyke sits at an­other com­puter, run­ning a pro­gram that con­trols the sim­u­la­tor.

He can se­lect a range of dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, from cities to high­ways, flat sec­tions or hills, and dial in any weather con­di­tions in­clud­ing rail, hail, wind and more.

The com­pany that built the soft­ware asked McColls for de­tails of ev­ery truck, down to the weights, tyre sizes, axle lengths and power fig­ures to en­sure ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

It cer­tainly feels life-like when you get be­hind the steer­ing wheel, which has force feed­back that im­i­tates a real one. It takes a lit­tle while to get used to the dif­fer­ent feel and the big­gest dif­fer­ence is the lack of G-forces and vi­bra­tions.

I can at­test the sim­u­lated non-syn­chro man­ual is ac­cu­rate and it crunches loudly a few times dur­ing my run . . . just as it would in real life.

Ev­ery part of the sim­u­la­tor driv­ing test is recorded so driv­ers can watch what they have done in great de­tail, in­clud­ing ev­ery throt­tle, brake and steer­ing in­put.

The McColls state-of-the-art driver train­ing sim­u­la­tor is an in­cred­i­bly re­al­is­tic ma­chine

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