36 Views of Mt. Fuji (and a few more)

Rummaging through my iPhoto, I came across some photos of my trip to Toyota’s Higashifuji Technical Center in Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, to check out the company’s driving simulator, which they claim to be the world’s largest and most advanced.

Driving simulators are important for one main reason: They allow you to test things — from new car technologies to over-the-counter meds — that you wouldn’t be able to do safely on the public road. I’m a bit of a driving simulator geek, having dodged debris falling from a truck on an Iowa road (it was part of a test of electronic stability control; and yes, it works) at the National Advanced Driving Simulator, frightened my minders with a vexing wrong-side-of-the-road drive (I realized how hard it is to shift with one’s left hand) at the TRL labs in the U.K., and had various other simulated drives elsewhere, in government and academic research facilities.

Both Toyota and NADS are pretty incredible — to recreate the feel of driving (which is said to be harder to recreate than flying), the capsule-like module, pictured below, must physically move around the vast hangar space. When you brake, it tilts forward; when you reverse, it tilts back. The tactile quality is convincing; one feels things like the gravel on the shoulder of the road.

One of the hazards of the driving simulator in general is so-called “simulator sickness,” due to the mismatch between your inner-ear sensations and what your eyes are seeing. I experienced a touch of it at Toyota, perhaps because I was the passenger in the vehicle (or maybe the way the driver was driving). But compared to the less sophisticated models, the ride is smooth. It was strange to look in the rear-view mirror and see the simulated environment receding.

I spent a lot of time simply examining the rendered landscape, the architecture, the vernacular signing, noticing small details like the cyclist in the crosswalk.

It is hard to go far in Japan without stumbling across some representation of the myth-drenched Mt. Fuji, as in this noodle shop in Tokyo.

Which is why I was delighted, if not totally surprised, to see Mt. Fuji hovering in this pixellated landscape.

It seemed to loom everywhere, recalling Roland Barthes’ declaration that the only place from which one could not see the Eiffel Tower was from within the tower itself. As fast as we drove, we seemed to get no closer.

Afterwards, I spent some time on the vast proving grounds, set up for the pilot test of an automated car.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 11:08 am and is filed under Cars, Etc., Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
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September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
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September 11, 2009
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October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

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INFORMS Roundtable
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October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
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November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

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Texas Transportation Forum
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Yale University
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Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

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University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
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International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

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Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

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Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
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Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
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Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



March 2009

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