History

General Simulation products are brought to you by MBFARR, LLC.  We have been working for more than 30 years to bring high quality driving simulation to those learning to drive.

In 1984, Rick Moncrief (MBFARR's CEO) was head of the Applied Research division of Arari Games, Inc.  Rick had headed the Army Battlezone project at Atari, which used video game technology to provide a trainer for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Rick is a private pilot, and was familiar with the use of simulation to teach military and civilian pilots to fly.  He was also familiar with the crude "filmstrip" driving simulators then used in automotive driver training.

Rick decided to try and use inexpensive arcade game technology to develop a driver training simulator that could teach students how to handle driving situations (such as poor traction), that were too difficult or dangerous for normal driver training in a real car. Such a simulator would require the following features:

  1. An accurate physical model of car handling.  If you are going to train drivers to handle a skid, the car must behave correctly.
  2. A 3D display of the world that could show the driver the simulated world around him.
  3. Realistic controls that would work and feel like the controls in a real car.
  4. An audio system that could give the driving student the sounds of his own car and other vehicles.

In the spring of 1985, Max Behensky joined Rick at Applied Research.  Max had worked on the first force feedback game controls (both joysticks and steering wheels) at Atari Cambridge Research.  Together with Erik Durfey, Jed Margolin, and Stephanie Mott, they developed a driving simulator that turned into the game Hard Drivin'

Hard Drivin'
From 1985 through early 1988 the Applied Research team developed hardware and software that could meet the four requirements detailed above.  In early 1988, they had systems that were starting to work with a build cost of under $4000.  However, it had also become clear that Atari was not ready to enter the driving simulation market yet.  The team decided to put off work on the driver training simulator, and do an arcade game first. 

Hard Drivin' was released in early 1989, and was a great success.  It was one of the first arcade games to use filled polygon graphics.  It was the first arcade game that had an accurate physical model of car handling, developed in conjunction with Doug Milliken of Milliken Research.  It had the first torque generating force feedback steering wheel used in a video game, and a strain gauge brake that was sensitive to how hard the driver was pressing on it.  It had an audio system that could play back real world sounds (such as a car engine) at different pitches and volumes.  Atari was granted 5 patents for innovations in the game.

An Accident Averted?
One story from the Hard Drivin' development process is relevant to the benefits of simulation for driver training.  All the members of the Applied Research team spent many hours driving the game during development of the game, and became very familiar with how to handle high speed skids in the simulator.  One night, Rick was driving home in the rain, and got on the gas too hard.  Using the skills he had learned in the simulator, he easily caught the skid, and he drove several blocks afterwards before he even thought that anything unusual had happened!

An Early Simulator for Evaluation of Medically Impaired Drivers
Simulator development by the Atari Applied Research team was something of a casualty of the success of Hard Drivin' and its sequel Race Drivin, since  the team was kept busy doing work on games. 

However, Dr. Dan Cox, of the University of Virginia and Rick Moncrief got in touch after Hard Drivin' was released.  Dr Cox was working on a study of how glucose levels in diabetic patients affected their driving.  It was too dangerous to put hypo and hyperglycemic patients into a real car to evaluate their performance, so Rick developed a special version of the 3 screen Race Drivin' Panorama game to test their driving performance.  This machine was in use for many years helping Dr. Cox to evaluate drivers that were medically impaired in various ways.

The Atari Police Trainer
Using Race Drivin' technology, Atari Games released a trainer for police, and other emergency vehicle drivers called the AMOS.  This simulator was designed to help teach police officers car handling as well as the kind of split second decision making necessary when involved in a police chase.

Full Motion Simulation
Rick Moncrief left Atari in 1995 to go work for LBE Technologies as vice president and chief technology officer.  LBE (later Silicon Entertainment) was a new startup that wanted to develop a network of full motion simulators to provide a realistic NASCAR racing experience.  The first Silicon Entertainment site opened at the Mall of America in 1997, and quickly became the highest grossing store in that mall per square foot.

MBFARR and the Driver Guidance System
Rick never forgot his desire to help save lives on the highway using simulation.  In 2008, his LLC, MBFARR, received, along with Dr. Dan Cox, an SBIR grant to use driving simulators to evaluate the driving of soldiers that had been subject to traumatic brain injury, and to help retrain them to drive again.  Rick hired Brad Fuller and Tom Harkins and they started development of the DGS.  Max Behensky started working with MBFARR in 2011. 

The DGS simulator has been used by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to see if simulators can be used to both evaluate driver performance, and increase the safety of the DMV inspectors that perform road tests (Video).