Jim Bedigan, creator of Reverse My Trailer, explains the motivation behind the creation of his trailer-reversing simulator program.
A few years ago, I found myself watching Caravanner of the Year on BBC2. I don’t own a caravan myself but nevertheless found it surprisingly good viewing.
One test given to the participants involved the main driver giving reversing instructions to their partner to help them negotiate several obstacles.
Despite the pressure they were under due to the presence of TV cameras, shouted instructions and rapidly worsening tempers, most of them ended up doing a pretty good job. However, I thought the test illustrated very clearly just how difficult reversing a caravan can be for the inexperienced.
I already knew this to be true. I may not own a caravan, but I do have a small trailer which I have never really got the hang of reversing. I would rather get out of the car, unhitch it and move it by hand than risk the embarrassment of publicly demonstrating my incompetence.
Of course, this is not really an option if you are towing a caravan, or a big trailer carrying something heavy - like a boat or a horse!
As well as being challenging, trailer reversing is acknowledged to be potentially dangerous too. Such is the level of concern, that an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Trailer and Towing Safety was set up in April 2019 to raise awareness of trailer and towing safety in the UK.
While there are many manoeuvring courses provided by training organisations that help improve and maintain road safety, the sad truth is that not everyone who tows a trailer will have attended such a course.
As a software developer and general tech-geek, I wondered if it might be possible to create a computer program to help people understand the principles of trailer reversing and to practise different manoeuvres from the (relative) safety of a computer keyboard.
Many years ago, I worked on 3D graphics systems in the flight simulator industry, so a driving simulator program seemed a logical option to investigate.
I searched online to see if what I had in mind already existed and although there are lots of driving games, some of which are extremely realistic, I couldn’t find anything that focused on the problem of reversing trailers.
I set myself two main design goals for the project. The first was to create a set of simulator models that would represent a range of real-world vehicles and trailers as accurately as possible – not so much in the way they look but in the way they behave.
For example, some cars have better turning circles than others and long trailers have different reversing characteristics that short ones. I wanted the program to reflect this.
The second design goal was to get the program to work out what steering should be applied at any point in time to keep the trailer on an ‘optimum’ approach route during manoeuvres, such as reversing into a gateway or a parallel parking space.
By linking these steering commands to the simulator steering controls, I hoped to create an ‘autopilot’ feature that could be used to demonstrate the manoeuvre.
More importantly, I planned to link these same steering commands to a visual ‘steer left/steer right’ indicator, to provide steering guidance to the user – just like the instructions given on Caravanner of the Year but with much less shouting.
I’ve had a lot of fun working on the program and now, after many months of development, I’m pleased to announce that the it is ready for use. It’s certainly not finished – in fact it may never be, as I hope to continually make improvements and add new features in the future based on user feedback.
The simulator provides a birds-eye view, along with multiple rear mirror views of the reversing operation. There are three driving modes – Autopilot and Guidance (as explained above) and Normal, where you are free to experiment. There is also an animated tutorial section which explains the principles of trailer reversing.
The program is only currently available as a Windows application, but I am already working on versions that will operate on mobile devices (phones, tablets etc).
Although it could and should never take the place of real driving experience under the guidance of a qualified instructor, the simulator is fun to use and above all – it’s free. All I ask is that you let me know what you think once you’ve tried it.
For details of how to download and install a copy, or to view demonstration videos (no installation required), please visit my web site at www.reversemytrailer.co.uk
By IAM RoadSmart guest blogger, Jim Bedigan