Tuesday, January 25, 2011
VRX iMotion: The First 3D Real-Time Racing Simulation
This is a product review by John Scott Lewinski on the VRX iMotion.
The VRX iMotion is one of the most sophisticated driving simulations in the world, allowing users to drive virtually alongside actual live Nascar and Formula One racers. At the 3D Entertainment Summit near Universal Studios in Los Angeles, we took it for a spin. Here's what the future of driver simulations (hopefully) looks like.
Very soon you will be able to race in real time against your favorite Nascar or Formula One star with your hands wrapped around a proper steering wheel. At the very same moment the green flag flies, your car will swap paint with the world's most elite four-wheel speed machines. And you will be able to do it from home.
All you'll need are free weekend afternoons and $30,000.
The VRX iMotion is one of the most sophisticated driver simulations in the world. The amalgamation of steel, carbon fiber and electronics simulates the driving experience of various supercars and professional racing machines, but it's what's under the hood, so to speak—live-streaming data, 3D graphics and a killer physics engine—that makes this simulator one of a kind.
First, the physical package: The VRX iMotion packs electromagnetic motion actuators that can generate up to 2Gs of simulated acceleration, re-creating pitch, roll, vibrations and impacts in sync with the on-screen racing re-creation. And NIVIDA 3D Vision Surround Technology wraps three HD monitors and Bose five-speaker surround audio around the driver.
The unit weighs 230 pounds and has a footprint of 28 x 60 x 55 inches. It's constructed from a combination of steel, aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber (like any supercar).
The resulting setup is a convincing, enveloping driving environment. From the moment I pressed down on the throttle and my head jerked back, I realized the VRX isn't a video game where you never bother to tap the brakes. You need to treat this sim with all the respect and dexterity of an elite vehicle.
I used a few parade laps to get a feel for the sim's physics engine. I found myself behind the bucking wheel of a 2005 Kodi ZR Z-Type. (This digital racer was created specifically for displaying the capabilities of the VRX iMotion.)
In the sim, my Kodi was a two-door, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe, packing an aluminum inline V6 capable of 355 bhp and a 0–60 time of 4.1 seconds—all numbers comparable to a 2010 Lotus Exige. I had a choice of automatic or manual transmission (on the floor or flappy paddle). I went the classic racing route of a six-speed manual stick.
Once I accelerated into a proper racing lap at speed, fighting the wheel at north of 160 mph forced me to clamp a white- knuckle grip on the wheel.
Like any finely tuned track car, the VRX (in its Kodi mode) was a challenge to master. While playing a console-based racing game, an occasional vibration in the controller can't simulate the sensations of driving. You never really forget that it's only a game. But the physical demands of the simulation—fighting the centrifugal force of an oval turn to hit the apex properly before the straightaway, feathering the throttle to master momentum so you can avoid braking, or sensing the atmospheric resistance of hugging the outside wall at 160 mph—makes the VRX more physically and mentally demanding than any mere game.
But even with its innately visceral driving experience, there are other professional sims that can at least rival this one. VRX CEO Robert Stanners says that passionate racing fans who drive actual cars that cost less than this sim probably need something more than realistic driving. So VRX went a step further—and worked with software developers to let users compete in a live race.
Virtual Meets Reality
During most major auto races, competing cars come equipped with GPS. For the most part, the live GPS enables television coverage to track and highlight cars for viewers. VRX, however, takes advantage of these positioning systems to bring a real-time driving experience to the iMotion. With the help of software from iOpener Media, the VRX reads the GPS of cars in Nascar or F-1 races and place them on the virtual track in real time. In short, VRX drivers can strap into the sim on race day as the gentlemen start their engines—and race against the entire field of pro drivers while the real event unfolds.
But what happens when the simulation and real world meet virtually? Andy Lürling, founder of iOpener, said the software's "optimal balance" algorithms kick in for the moments when the real and virtual cars collide.
"When the gamer contacts a real car, the algorithms dictate an optimal balance between reality and game experience," Lürling says. "Therefore we have chosen to let the game experience a crash, so the real car in the game will react on the contact. You will experience a crash, though the real car will always be able to continue the race and it will go back to its actual position."
There are no cameras involved in tracking the actual race cars you square off against during the real-time, race-day simulations. It's all GPS, and, according to Real-Time Racing, the in-car GPS systems in the professional race cars report accurate vehicle positions to within a few inches, even at track speeds.
In the case of a crash, the sim's physics engines calculate the impact and car positioning based on where your virtual racer makes "contact." In the real race, if there's a crash not involving the VRX driver, it will appear in the game.
"We had a good example in one of our tests during the FIA World Touring Car Championships event at Circuit Zolder last June," Lürling says. "Gabriele Tarquini crashed after hitting the curve stones, and we could see it perfectly in the game—even better than the TV broadcast, because their cameras missed it."