Imagine a sailor experiencing strong tides which sway the ship to its extremes. The turbulent scene could test the limits of the sailor – where they must make safety and mission critical decisions. It is in such moments one realises the benefits of experience and skill. However, shouldn’t there be a way to train them better without risking lives or property?
What if the sailor could be trained for such situations in a controlled environment. There could be a simulator which recreates the control systems and motion patterns for real-time immersive experiences. Such platforms are being extensively used round the world, mainly to train operators of heavy trucks, trains, helicopters, cranes, etc. In fact, the story of Stewart Platforms picked up with flight simulators in 1965.
Understanding the effects of motion on an object is crucial, as it may favourably or unfavourably impact the performance of that object. Similarly, our physical, physiological and psychological parameters are directly affected by the effects of motion (think 10 G vs 0G or negative acceleration). Consider the effects of motion and gravity faced by Formula 1 Race Drivers or Astronauts, it is crucial to study these effects better to keep them safe and perform flawlessly!
To simulate an immersive experience, a high-fidelity mock-up is made of the control systems along with screens or VR headsets. The quality of simulation depends on how well all senses are cared for – visual, smell, sound and touch. A realistic environment ensures better training and confidence in people. However, the simulation shall remain ineffective unless the effects of motion are also replicated.
The entertainment and simulation industries have been using motion platforms (or a motion base) to generate realistic motion patterns. While 2 DoF or 3 DoF platforms can be comparatively affordable, they aren’t capable of generating realistic motion profiles. As we have discussed earlier, any free moving body in 3-D space has 6 degrees of freedom. Thus, a 6 DoF Stewart Platform becomes the preferred choice to generate realistic movement.
It isn’t surprising that motion simulation soon became entertainment. After all, motion is also quite thrilling! We see examples of interactive and immersive installations in museums and trade shows, high-fidelity racing simulators, roller coaster experience rides, driving simulator and many examples of virtual reality experiences in theatres and theme parks.
On the other side of the world where we talk about mission critical and safety
critical operations, people and machines are thoroughly tested at their limits. Training procedures, standard operating procedures, worst-case scenarios are all prepared, programmed and repeatedly performed to prepare for the worst. Stewart Platforms have been a reliable tool to replicate motion for such tests.
Beyond training and entertainment, motion simulation has also been applied into therapy and medical research. The 6 DoF Stewart Platforms can mimic human movement as well, like running, walking, complex movements of the knee and the neck – it can also mimic terrain and motion conditions to understand their impact on a real-time subject. These studies help provide better healthcare and therapy, while also helping to design better human-centered products.
With today’s advancements in computer graphics, game engines and high-fidelity VR renders – we have motion simulators with incredibly low latency (</= 11ms), which results in experiences so immersive and realistic, you forget the physical world out there. Such immersive experiences are used in driving simulators to prepare people for driving in extreme scenarios like fog, desert terrain, disaster zones, etc.
The impact of motion simulation and Stewart platforms is all around us. It has become a critical tool in developing smarter, safer and more robust solutions. Likewise, it has transformed the training, simulation and entertainment world with immersive experiences. India is an emerging market for motion simulators and motion platforms; we cannot wait to witness what exciting wonders shall come next!