The biology of simulation

A Norfolk firm has devised a sim with potential uses that extend far beyond mere motor racing

Here’s a different take on simulators. The limitation of most is the driver – the one uncontrollable thing, an imperfect cog in the machine.

But the connection between man and machine is the very thing that defines the success of a simulator.

Based in Norfolk, there’s one sim that syncs the two better than most. Ansible Motion is the brainchild of Kia Cammaerts, formerly of Ralt and Team Lotus, and it is breaking ground with what is said to be the most advanced simulator of its kind. “It started on the back of a fag paper – well, beer mat actually,” Cammaerts says.

Most simulators are hexapods, perched high in the gods. That means movement can be tricky, much more space is needed and the driver can feel the sim moving unnaturally. They convey motion by using jarring movements (for example jerking forward when you stamp on the brakes). However, they then have to move back to the central, neutral position, in order to be ready to make the next movement. This makes a tuned-in driver think something is wrong and removes them from the sensation of driving.

It’s biology as much as engineering.

That is where Ansible’s innovative approach comes in. Its design takes up less space – and it sits on the floor. Think a stack of Meccano with a changeable monocoque on top, in front of large screens, and you’re not far off.

Its inherent manoeuvrability means it can be subtler. The ‘feel’ syncs better with the vision, and once the vision takes over then the sim returns imperceptibly to the centre of the rig. It’s a trick of the mind.

The feeling is surreal, but natural. The sim’s sophistication and flexibility has made it an easy sell for manufacturers of both racing and road cars. Ten are already out in the wild, in F1 or with car manufacturers. Yet Cammaerts also sees the benefits for emergency response drivers from the police, ambulance and fire service, because it allows them to get used to driving at speed. The company has already had interest from several police forces so far.

It could train us, then, to be that little bit closer to perfect. But whether the human ever becomes anything other than the weakest link in the chain remains to be seen.