Computer driving games are everywhere and becoming increasingly sophisticated, so much so that in 2008 Nissan’s GT Academy gave Gran Turismo players the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a real-life professional driver. Any player who could prove their driving skills in the virtual world could compete on a real track in a real car to win a spot on the Nissan racing team. The competition was open to any PlayStation player with a simple download from the PlayStation Store. Top players were chosen through a series of time trials in pre-selected cars.  Hundreds of thousands of aspiring drivers were narrowed down to just a few who competed in a finals event before being chosen to take part in the final selection round — a racing boot camp at Silverstone. This was where the drivers jumped out of their virtual car into a real Nissan race car and tried to prove they had what it takes to be a professional driver.

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Simulators used to design machines and train operators to use them

What a fantastic way of training the next generation of racing drivers! Driving simulators are not new technology but they are becoming more realistic. You can now get farming and construction simulators in which you can drive tractors, combines and earthmovers – although I still haven’t seen one for ride-on mowers (which might explain why some operators drive them like racing cars oblivious to drain covers, kerb stones, trees… the list is endless). Manufacturers of earthmoving machinery, forestry equipment and tractors utilise simulators in the design process to work out the best operator ergonomics by producing virtual operator stations.  The operator sits in the station surrounded by levers, controls, pedals and a seating position which can be altered on a computer to infinitely fine tune the design before the manufacturing process begins. Believe it or not, but this type of technology is now being used in the development of operator platforms on some of the latest ride-on machines.

I appreciate that we are not quite in the fast paced world of motorsport and this may seem far-fetched, but it is starting to happen. I was always taught that you learn from experience, which is fine if you have the time to gain this experience and there are people willing to train you. However it always seems that time is of a premium and whilst we are all looking for reasonably competent operators, organising machinery inductions and operator training, this soon gets forgotten about when the grass starts growing and the pressure is on. We shouldn’t just assume that a day’s training is sufficient to make a good operator; realistically it can take weeks of operating in a variety of conditions for an individual to gain the necessary confidence, mechanical sympathy and experience to become a reasonable operator.

Consider for a minute the new operator who has been trained and spent time familiarising themselves with the workings of an out-front rotary on large open spaces within a housing complex or park in good weather conditions. Full of confidence they then take to a sloped area when it starts to rain. You may have a robust risk assessment in place, but has the operator read and understood it? This is where a lack of experience can become dangerous – don’t just assume that your operator will manage. Going back to the high-tech world of the simulator, this would be the ideal scenario to test an operator with, avoiding any injury, damage or embarrassing laundry bills!

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Don’t underestimate the value of experience

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet

Angus Lindsay
Angus writes a monthly column for Pro Landscaper Magazine