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  • Writer's pictureJeff Rayner

A step by step guide to Building a driving simulator!

Are you fascinated by the idea of driving a bus (or other vehicle) but constrained by the limitations of the real world?

Or perhaps you're a professional driver trainer looking to enhance the skills of new recruits in a safe, controlled environment?

Building a bus driving simulator can be an exciting and rewarding project... but even when you know what you're doing, there's a lot that can go wrong.


In this blog post, we'll guide you through the process of creating a comprehensive bus driving simulator with four+ screens, a steering wheel, custom floorboard, pedals, foot buttons, and custom control switches.


1. Planning Your Simulator

Before diving into the construction, it's crucial to plan. Consider the following:

  • Space Requirements: Ensure you have adequate space for the setup, including room for multiple screens and movement.

  • Budget: Factor in the costs of hardware, software, and any additional tools or materials you may need. All things considered, expect to pay a minimum of $10k for a very basic set-up, yet $80k upwards for a realistic version - and that's just the hardware!

  • Technical Specifications: Decide on the specifications for your computer, screens, and other hardware. Higher specs will provide a smoother and more realistic simulation experience. Yet ensure your motherboard, power supplies, graphics cards, are all up to the ideals you have. PS figuring this out is not as easy as it at first appears.

2. Acquiring the Hardware

The hardware is the backbone of your simulator. You'll need:

  • Four High-Quality Screens: These will display the left driver side, left front windscreen, right front windscreen, and right side views. Look for screens with minimal bezel for a more immersive experience, yet they should also be 4k 120Hz, otherwise details will look grainy and/or you may notice framerate issues. You can obviously go with 1 , 2, or 3 screens, yet these set-ups just don't provide a realistic viewpoint. See section 6 for additional info.

Image - Our first 4 monitor display (initial test set-up using 4x 65" 4k 120Hz)
  • A High-Performance PC: Ensure your PC has a powerful processor, high-end graphics card, and sufficient RAM to run simulation software smoothly. We recommend a 4070 Ti or above.

  • A Steering Wheel: Choose a wheel that is ideally taken off of a decommissioned bus. We then use high-end hubs to simulate the rotation and feedback effects you'd expect from turning a bus. You can of course go for a car driving wheel, but you'll quickly find that it just doesn't handle the way you'd expect.

Image - the Fanatec steering wheel hub for professional steering sensations

  • Pedals and Foot Buttons: Invest in durable pedals for acceleration and braking. Foot buttons should be added for additional functions like indicators, emergency broadcasts, hazards, etc. We custom build our floorboards, pedals, and floor buttons to mimic the bus as realistically as possible. Let's talk about that next.

  • Driving Seat: Given you'll be in this seat for a while, and likely have multiple people using it regularly We recommend investing in a high quality realistic seat, ideally that has full controls for up/down, left/right and even air compression based comfort settings.


Image - a view of an installation of a VR driving sim for our first partner and client in the bus driving realm, Pierce Transit. Today they have a mixture of both VR and 2D monitor based simulators, all which use the same software that they helped design.

3. Designing the Custom Floorboard

The floorboard is where you'll mount your pedals and foot buttons. You can build this from sturdy materials like wood or metal or even 3D printed. We prefer ours to be made primarily from metal, as its stronger, more durable, and will last longer with the wear and tear they will receive. The key is to ensure it's stable and positioned at a comfortable height and angle for the driver.


There has been much exploration of the appropriate positions, angles, and types. Yet if you've driven more than one bus, you'll know it's rare that everything is in the same place and does the same thing.

When we create our floorboards, we take precise measurements of the bus in question, and recreate as close to the real thing as possible. Indeed, we will often use real foot pedals and buttons taken from an old bus.


4. Implementing Pedals and Foot Buttons

Pedals are crucial for a realistic driving experience. You might use pedals from a racing simulator as a starting point. For foot buttons, you can repurpose buttons from old controllers or purchase new ones. These will be integrated into the floorboard.

Obviously for the best experience, you should either use old bus peripherals, or create some that mimic them very carefully. This is not only important for looks, but more so for feel, angle or depression, resistance, and rebound.


5. Crafting Custom Control Switches

For an authentic bus driving experience, you'll need various control switches. These could include switches for lights, windshield wipers, and other bus-specific controls. You can either purchase ready-made switch panels or build your own for a more customized experience.

We use custom peripherals to help users navigate between in-experience and out of experience options including core skills, advanced settings, options, and related controls... all in the name of making it as intuitive as possible.


6. Setting Up the Screens

Arrange your four screens in a layout that mimics the windows of a bus. This setup will likely require a sturdy frame to hold the screens in the correct positions. Pay special attention to the angles and heights for optimal visibility.

We'd love to say that this was an easy task, but you will now face several daunting problems including:

a) can the software I want to use support these monitors?

b) does my computer support them?

c) do I have the right cables? (very important)

d) does my computer and software work well to allow me to reorient the images on the screens to mimic the real world?

e) does the s/w account for parallax and angular distance calibration?


When we built our first sim, we had no idea what we were in for. Now several iterations later, we have it down, but it is always a learning process.


We are lucky enough to build our own s/w that offers single screen adjustments via virtual cameras. Check if your s/w does this too.


7. Selecting and Configuring the Software

Choose a bus driving simulation software that suits your needs. Ensure it's compatible with your hardware, mimics your bus, follows your training protocols, can adapt to future requirements, and allows for multiple screen setups. Configuring the software to work seamlessly with your hardware setup is crucial for an immersive experience.

We custom build our simulators, which include both the hardware and software. We use off the shelf components were appropriate, yet ensure our clients get the best integration for the most realistic and immersive experience possible within their budget. It is very possible that our hardware works with other software, and our software works with other hardware. If you have something you'd like to test, be sure to let us know!


8. Calibration and Testing

Once everything is set up, it's time to calibrate your hardware with the software. Test all components - screens, steering wheel, pedals, foot buttons, control switches, etc. - to ensure they work as intended.

Calibration is key to ensuring that your movements in the simulator accurately reflect in the software.

Double check things like acceleration, braking distances, turning radiuses, and that all buttons, switches, nobs, pedals, and interactables works as expected.


9. Fine-Tuning for Realism

After your initial tests, fine-tune the settings for realism. Try reversing, hill starts and stops, turning at various speeds, sharp turns, roundabouts, etc.

Adjust the sensitivity of the steering wheel, pedals, and other controls accordingly (if possible).


If your software permits, you might also want to adjust the field of view on the screens for a more realistic perspective. Just because it looks good to you, if a smaller or taller person takes the driving seat, things may look very different!


Video - notice how as the users height increases or decreases, the angles of the horizontal plane shift between monitors, breaking the virtual illusion.




10. Ongoing Maintenance and Upgrades

Finally, remember that maintaining your simulator is crucial. Regularly check and update both hardware and software. As technology advances, consider upgrading components to enhance your simulation experience.

All our hardware comes with a minimum 12 month warranty, and our software is automatically upgraded with any of our ongoing training programs.


11. It takes a Village!

To build, install, and customize a driving simulator takes a lot of work, but that's just the half of it. Getting the software to effectively communicate, and then fine tune it to recreate realistic settings requires planning, teamwork, patience, and commitment. Kudos to our entire team, yet particularly JeffW, Chris, David, Erick, Nelson, and Toby for your support, encouragement, and dedication.


Conclusion

Building a bus driving simulator is a challenging but immensely fulfilling project. It not only offers a unique and immersive experience for bus driving enthusiasts but also serves as an excellent training tool for professionals. With careful planning, quality hardware, and the right software, you can create a simulator that not only mimics the thrill of driving a bus but also helps in skill development and safety training.


Happy building and safe driving in the virtual world!


If you want to learn more about the various multi-monitor and VR driving simulators we've built for buses, cars, planes, helicopters, and spaceships... check us out at www.driversoftomorrow.com or www.mxtreality.com

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