SUSONO, Japan — Taking the wheel of Toyota's new driving simulator is something of a mix between flying a UFO and playing the world's coolest video game.
A plush Lexus LS 460 is encased in a dome lined with 360-degree computer graphics of the world outside, from street signs and stoplights to nearby towering Mount Fuji.
The dome itself then whizzes back and forth across the floor of a sports-arena-sized warehouse, giving the sensation of going around turns, screeching to a halt or gunning from a standstill.
As one of the first journalists to test the simulator, I elicited nervous laughter when I tried passing another car on a blind curve and later "accidentally" ran down a digital pedestrian.
But for engineers at Toyota Motor Corp., their new machine is anything but a toy. It's the culmination of a four-year project to build the world's most realistic driving simulator. The aim is to create a database of individual driving habits that will help them design ever-safer cars.