Virtual reality to get role in autonomous vehicle development


The Yomiuri Shimbun: The government plans to create a performance simulator in which the roads around the Odaiba district of Tokyo are replicated in virtual reality, part of its measures to support the development of autonomous vehicles in fiscal 2020. 

By verifying the performance of sensors indispensable in autonomous driving through the use of virtual reality, the amount of road testing conducted with real vehicles can be drastically reduced with the aim of speeding up the development process for domestic manufacturers. 

This is one initiative as part of the Cabinet Office’s Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program which supports the development of autonomous driving. 

The simulator would be made available to domestic manufacturers of cameras, millimeter-wave radar and other types of sensors, such as Sony Corp., Denso Corp. and Pioneer Corp. It could also be used by manufacturers of finished vehicles such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. 


In advanced autonomous driving, sensors recognize not only nearby vehicles and pedestrians, but lane lines, traffic signals and other objects as well. This data is processed by artificial intelligence to avoid accidents during driving. 

Sensors play the role of the human eye, and their sophistication, in parallel to AI, is expected to determine the course of global competition over the practical applications of autonomous driving. 

The simulator would replicate a network of about 54 kilometers of roads from the Daiba district of Minato Ward to the Toyosu district of Koto Ward in a virtual reality environment. 

In addition to weather conditions, many fine points of the simulator’s environment can be freely adjusted, including the movements of oncoming vehicles and pedestrians, the fading of lane lines, and the location of signs. 

Conducting tests using real vehicles in special driving conditions, such as intense rain, snow or a pedestrian suddenly running out into the street, require considerable time and money. 

As such, “Testing in virtual reality can greatly reduce the number of tests using real vehicles and speed up development,” said Kanagawa Institute of Technology Prof. Hideo Inoue, who has been commissioned by the government to take part in creating the simulator. 

If each company uses a simulator to collect data under the same conditions, it could also help standardize quality control.