A second life for open-world games as self-driving car training software

A lot of top-tier video games enjoy lengthy long-tail lives with remasters and re-releases on different platforms, but the effort put into some games could pay dividends in a whole new way, as companies training things like autonomous cars, delivery drones and other robots are looking to rich, detailed virtual worlds to provided simulated training environments that mimic the real world.

Just as companies including Boom can now build supersonic jets with a small team and limited funds, thanks to advances made possible in simulation, startups like NIO (formerly NextEV) can now keep pace with larger tech concerns with ample funding in developing self-driving software, using simulations of real-world environments including those derived from games like Grand Theft Auto V. Bloomberg reports that the approach is increasingly popular among companies that are looking to supplement real-world driving experience, including Waymo and Toyota’s Research Institute.

There are some drawbacks, of course: Anyone will tell you that regardless of the industry, simulation can do a lot, but it can’t yet fully replace real-world testing, which always diverges in some ways from what you’d find in even the most advanced simulations. Also, miles driven in simulation don’t count towards the total miles driven by autonomous software figures most regulatory bodies will actually care about in determining the road worthiness of self-driving systems.

The more surprising takeaway here is that GTA V in this instance isn’t a second-rate alternative to simulation software created for the purpose of testing autonomous driving software – it proves an incredibly advanced testing platform, because of the care taken in its open-world game design. That means there’s no reason these two market uses can’t be more aligned in future: Better, more comprehensive open-world game design means better play experiences for users looking for that truly immersive quality, and better simulation results for researchers who then leverage the same platforms as a supplement to real-world testing.