Each year, CES in Las Vegas is filled with a bunch of unnecessary tech—skinny televisions, smart refrigerators and that doesn’t include the really sad booths. But there was one demo that finally struck me not as something I wanted, but something I needed—a fully simulated big rig.
Sigma Integrale is a vehicle simulations and technology company based out of Los Angeles, California that basically turns any normal vehicle into a full-on simulator. If you’ve ever been to an auto show and seen a line of people waiting to get behind the wheel of a Dodge Viper to play video games through the car’s normal controls, Sigma Integrale makes that work.
The company hacks into the steering, suspension, gauges, stereo, and basically every other component that the driver would interact with on the real road to communicate with their custom software and simulate real-world scenarios.
This year, Sigma drove a real Peterbilt Model 579 with a 72-inch sleeper from Los Angeles to the Las Vegas convention center floor and spent about four hours converting it to the full-size simulator you see in the video. This includes adding in the screens, projectors, suspension actuators and the software.
Everything worked, from the air seat, to the feedback in the steering wheel, to the feeling in your butt when the rear axles of a trailer go over a bump.
Even the weight of the trailer factored into the driving dynamics: decoupling it from the Peterbilt itself made the acceleration faster, the braking distance shorter and the steering lighter, just as it would in real-life.
I would’ve been perfectly happy just driving the big rig through Las Vegas like a law-abiding citizen and calling it quits afterwards. Instead, I did what any other sane human being would do in this scenario: drive maniacally down the strip Grand Theft Auto-style with no regard for laws, lives, or mercy.
Luckily for the imaginary pedestrians in my path, my adrenaline-fueled rampage didn’t last long. After crashing into a few cars my transmission began to fail, limiting my acceleration and top speed. Eventually, the engine followed suit and rendered the vehicle useless without further repair.
When I exited the truck, it felt like I had gotten back from a vacation. The simulation was so lifelike that my mind completely detached from being at CES, or Las Vegas in general, to the point where it became therapeutic. This level of therapy doesn’t come cheap, though. The truck costs $150,000 and then another $150,000 is required for Sigma to rig it up the way you see in the video.
Before experiencing the simulator, I knew there were challenges these big rig drivers faced—blind spots, increased braking distances, wide turns, etc—but only when you’re behind the wheel do those challenges become abundantly clear.
Next time, I’ll think twice about pulling out in front of that tractor-trailer.