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Avoiding “Simulator Sickness” in High-Speed Pursuit Training Simulators

“Simulator sickness” is a persistent issue in many high speed pursuit training programs, and can really derail a session. Simulator sickness (also called “simulator adaptation syndrome” or “SAS”) has been an issue for as long as there have been modern vehicle simulators. (Trainers first noted this cocktail of nausea, headaches, cold-sweats, and eye strain in the 1950s, with early helicopter sims—although they originally incorrectly attributed it to the vibrations of the heavy machinery used to swoop and swing the practice cockpit.)

While police pursuit training simulators are far less exotic than combat chopper sims, they’re by no means exempt from simulator sickness issues. According to Heather Stoner, manager of operations at FAAC’s Realtime Technologies (RTI) research division:

Simulator sickness is an issue well studied by the University of Iowa. During the course of their research, it was discovered that 10% of the general population will experience some form of distress when operating a simulator. This might be anything from simple eyestrain to nausea, and in very infrequent instances, vomiting. With proper orientation to the simulator device, this percentage can be greatly lowered.

Most drivers will experience no significant simulator sickness symptoms. But since we cannot know which 10% are sensitive to SAS, it’s critical that we acclimate all trainees.

Police Pursuit Training Simulators and Simulator Sickness: The Basics

Like “motion sickness” and “seasickness,” simulator sickness appears to arise from mismatches between a person’s sensory systems. While one system (such as the eyes) insist the body as a whole is moving in one way, another system (usually the “vestibular system,” which relies largely on the inner ear to help you maintain your sense of balance and orient yourself in space) reports otherwise.

While motion sickness and simulator sickness may be neurologically related, they are not the same. In particular, simulators traditionally suffer from some technological limitations that increase the likelihood of simulator sickness. Consider the eye. The human visual system evolved over 540 million years to work best in a “fully immersive environment” with a very high “refresh rate” and stunning “screen resolution”—i.e., the real world. Many simulation scenarios—such as video-game systems and older training simulators—create excessive eye strain because of low-fidelity video and prolonged “unnatural” eye movement. This is a recipe for SAS. But many factors contributing to simulator sickness can be decreased—even eliminated—with improved technology.

Lowering the Incidence of Simulator Sickness in Police Pursuit Training Simulators

Decreasing the likelihood of simulator sickness begins with the hardware. Display flicker, poor image resolution, slow graphics update and refresh rates, and geometrically distorted graphical displays all contribute to eye strain. All of these factors can be minimized by a combination of high-definition displays and high-speed graphical processors.

FAAC specifically optimizes all of their simulator software to minimize transport delays. This makes it possible to tightly synchronize controls, the visual scene, and all of the feedback motions (be it from force-feedback steering, motion seats, or a multiple degree-of-freedom platform). With their sensory inputs properly synchronized, students can much more easily cope with the wide visual field-of-view (which is inherently disorienting). FAAC can also integrated HVAC units into the simulators, in order to maintain an optimal temperature and airflow. Cool temperatures correlate with lower incidences of SAS.

But remember, the technology is a tool, not a solution: Proper instruction is the key. FAAC’s Realtime Technologies research arm has worked with their simulation trainers and police trainers to develop both general acclimation guidelines, as well as specific presentations for specific clients.

“In general,” explains Chuck Deakins, FAAC Lead Simulation Training Specialist (and a retired lieutenant commander), “Keep room temperature cool and maintain good ventilation and air circulation near the driving cabin. There’s also a teaching component: Inform new trainees about depth perception adjustments. While operating they should continually scan the scene with their eyes. They should frequently glance at the side channels and consciously check mirrors while turning—all good driving practices themselves.”

Special Simulation Scenarios that Quickly Acclimate Trainees to the Police Pursuit Training Simulator

“Acclimation scenarios” are the final piece of the puzzle.  These simulated scenarios specifically aim to help students adapt to the sensory experience of driving a police pursuit simulator.

“There are several of these acclimation-specific scenarios designed around good acclimation procedures,” Deakins notes. “They start slowly, adding in different elements one at a time: Start and stop—Done. Start, drive, turn—Done. Very small movements, incremental expanding out so your senses have time to adapt properly.

He concludes, “All simulation training is based on moving from simple to complex maneuvers. Acclimation is no different. The time you invest in simple, slow-speed, short-duration acclimation will prevent losing students due to SAS, and result in a much more effective training experience for everyone. Finally, remember that acclimation scenarios aren’t just ‘driving around’; they have specific training objectives. These include mirror checks, ‘scan and assess’, speed appreciation, radio use, and helping the student establish perception and distance parameters. These are fundamentals the students will need for the more advanced and complex scenarios.”

FAAC has had good results in lowering the rate of simulator sickness down from the 10% baseline. As Heather Stoner explained, “It has been the experience of our users that the incidence rate is in the range of 3% to 5%, depending on gender and age group. Upon repeated exposure to the simulator in small segments of time, this group of people is reduced even further.”

Three Keys to Avoiding “Simulator Sickness” in Your Simulation Training Sessions

Deakins offers three key tips as you develop your scenarios and acclimate students:

  1. Few turns, short time. Do not have students make turns or drive for more than a minute in the first few scenarios. Turns should only be used when there is a purpose in training turns.
  2. Time in a scenario is critical. Learning occurs in single incidents. It is is often lost or forgotten in extended driving experiences (e.g, longer than 3 to 5 minutes).
  3. Start in the dark with clear skies. Night-driving simulations are inherently easier on the brain and eyes. Turn on darkness and do not use snow or rain effects during acclimation.

FAAC Incorporated is the leader in simulation training solutions. Our high fidelity simulators provide an unmatched level of realism that immersion, allowing users to experience real world conditions and events.  Find us online at faacdev.wpengine.com