Video games represent the bleeding edge of software simulations, and the next generation of mobility startups have been playing for ages. End-to-end game-design tool sets like Unreal Engine from Fortnite mastermind Epic Games and Unity, from Unity Technologies can render gigantic worlds and populate them with AI-controlled inhabitants that behave like humans, pretty easily. Both are free to use.
Participants on the “Automobility 4.0” panel on the AutoMobili-D stage at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit this week, agreed that the future of how we get around will come from an extremely unexpected space.
“When you think of gaming you may not think of mobility,” Ted Serbinksi, managing director for TechStars Detroit said.
The best racing games feature 1:1 photorealistic recreations of world-famous tracks and mathematically perfect physics simulations for their digital race cars. “Digital twins,” if you will, accurate down to the most minute detail. To Virgin Hyperloop One’s Matt Jones, the senior vice president of software, this presents a unique opportunity for testing: “the capability of spinning up a million machines and doing a billion miles of testing while your engineer sleeps for the night.”
“You could drive millions of [real-world] miles and never encounter the same situation twice,” said Kirk Steudle, former MDOT director and current chief of the American Center for Mobility (ACM) in nearby Ypsilanti.
Waymo has been using a custom simulation tool dubbed Carcraft (named after World of Warcraft), and in 2016, racked up 2.5 billion virtual miles driven versus Google’s 3 million real-world miles. Grand Theft Auto V’s digital Los Angeles has been used to train AI drivers, too. Naturally, ACM has a digital twin of its sprawling grounds and is exploring ways to make it available so teams can test at the historic facility, from anywhere in the world.
“We at ACM believe simulation is really the way to go,” Steudle said.