If you've ever played Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune or Assetto Corsa, you have probably driven on Japan's famous Shuto Expressway. It serves as a network of elevated toll roads in the Greater Tokyo Area with plenty of curves and long straights, but also gained popularity (and notoriety) for street racing like the Mid Night Club that aimed for 300 km/h runs on the Wangan Bayshore Route.

Recently a computer simulation specialist called rFpro came up with a different use for the Shuto Expressway. Instead of using the expressway as a street racing virtual track, the company modeled a version of the expressway to thoroughly test autonomous vehicles.

Using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scan technology, the company was able to create an accurate digital twin of the Shuto Expressway and the Inner Circular Route. That way, instead of actually testing self-driving cars in potentially dangerous scenarios, testers will be able to test all of their systems in the safety of the digital world.

The added benefit of having a digital version of the expressway is that users can add scripted traffic scenarios that autonomous vehicles can navigate through. This will allow testers to set up high-speed or low-speed traffic, the type of weather being experienced, as well as how many cars can be present at a specific time or location.

Perhaps one of the most challenging sections of the expressway is C1. With windy roads, changing elevations, and plenty of expansion joints/road markers present, it makes for a great test track for autonomous vehicle software.

“The C1 route is one of the most challenging stretches of city roads in the world for an autonomous vehicle to navigate,” said Matt Daley, rFpro Managing Director. “With constantly changing road curvature and elevation, complex and densely situated junctions and a huge array of road signs and markings, it is the ultimate test of autonomous vehicle technologies and is the perfect way to exercise and develop such capabilities safely."

Shuto Expressway digital image

Besides the expressway itself, rFpro was able to develop digital vehicles that work and react like real cars. Automakers can use this as a way of testing vehicle dynamics, braking, steering work, and even engine mapping.

“Our models are extremely versatile, enabling users to maximize their investment in simulation. You can even replicate complex traffic scenarios to test how well your automatic gearbox and engine mapping perform when crawling through traffic. Importantly, this can then be correlated in the real world on the exact same piece of road,” added Daley.

Shuto Expressway digital image

While some may see Shuto Expressway as a concrete playground to test out high-performance cars, rFpro was able to see beyond that and instead make a digital rendition for testing out vehicles and self-driving cars. And since companies can easily use it without being on the road itself, they can safely do a wide array of tests without the risk of accidents happening.

Now if we can only make a 3D version of EDSA and see just how we can improve the traffic flow on one of the country's busiest thoroughfares. I'm sure the MMDA or the DOTr would be interested in actually having one of those at their disposal.