CNRS and the Renault Research Department have set up a joint research unit, the Virtual-Environment Motion Perception and Control Laboratory (LPCMV), to open the way for original research into virtual reality. The new laboratory will be investigating drivers perception and interpretation mechanisms, to develop a better understanding of the way individuals interact with their environment when performing tasks such as driving a car.
Research will be carried out entirely on Renault simulation systems. This joint approach is expected to bring major benefits in the optimisation of virtual-reality tools as researchers use simulation systems provided by Renault, including the Ultimate driving simulator, a lighting simulator, and a virtual-reality room. The Ultimate simulator is a very-high-performance dynamic simulator, developed under the European Eureka project. Claimed to be unique in Europe, the simulator has advanced technical specifications giving excellent visual immersion and restitution of the physical motion produced under acceleration, including round bends and during lane changes. The Ultimate Simulator will be used for investigating the perception of motion and for developing an understanding of multisensory integration mechanisms, for applications in design, production and validation of new user interface systems. The stereoscopic lighting simulator with 210 per cent cylindrical immersive screen developed under the European Claresco project was designed for studying visual exploration mechanisms under limited-visibility conditions with a view to developing new generation vehicle lighting systems, such as cornering lights. Virtual reality at the other end is a large-scale stereoscopic image wall fitted with head motion sensors and haptic (touch-based) force feedback devices, enabling Renault to study distance perception in a proximal environment (close to the body) and conduct experiments on driver-position ergonomics and architecture. The neo laboratory will be employing a research team of about 30 at the Renault Technocentre in Guyancourt, west of Paris.
Specific issues under study include sensation of displacement (acceleration, braking, etc) and driver perception of the immediate environment, starting with the vehicle cabin. Visuo-vestibular integration (vision and inner ear) during displacement, dynamic user interfaces and haptic (touch-based) per captions. Scientists will be observing the way drivers use controls, and measuring how dashboard interfaces (screens, switches, voice command, etc.) affect driving practice. Another important research field is driver behaviour-driver reactions in different driving scenarios will be coming under close scientific scrutiny.
Renault will be probing differences and similarities in driver behaviour across real and virtual environments, to enhance the relevance of findings from virtual experiments with regards to actual driver behaviour. The findings from the laboratorys research work will be used for developing simulators in which driver reaction in the virtual domain will be accurately representative of real-life behaviour.
Through the LPCMV initiative, CNRS and Renault are expected to reap full benefits from each others experience in virtual reality. CNRS will provide human resources by assigning research personnel to the new laboratory. And Renault will be providing the scientists with immersive simulation systems like the Ultimate driving simulator, a lighting simulator, and a virtual reality room.
In an industrial context, virtual design tools greatly accelerate the validation of new vehicle systems. And as well as matching user interfaces closer and closer to human needs and capacities, they also bring very significant improvements in system reliability and efficiency.
In research groundwork, virtual-reality systems open a new dimension for the study of motion perception mechanisms. Human perception is always multi-sensory, and modern virtual systems provide extremely realistic coverage of multiple human sensory channels: visual, vestibular (inner ear), proprioceptive (muscular, chiefly), haptic (touch), hearing, etc. Virtual environment perception studies yield a better understanding of the mechanisms and information-handling processes used by the brain for the purposes of perception and motion control during tasks like walking or driving a car. CNRS is primarily seeking to develop its understanding of the mechanisms involved in the perception of space and motion. One of Renaults main objectives is to probe the differences and similarities in driver behaviour between real and virtual environments. Then Renault will also be using the knowledge acquired by virtual-reality experiments to improve its immersive simulation systems.