A number of enterprises aiming to introduce driverless vehicles by 2020 are using action-adventure video game Grand Theft Auto V (GTA) to train and mature their self-driving technology. The video game’s storyline revolves around a criminal underworld where the player can choose missions as well as engage in side activities, all consisting of action-adventure, driving, third-person shooting, occasional role-playing, stealth and racing elements.

Companies like Ford and Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car project) are both testing their technology’s reactions and teaching their cars how to adapt to thousands of different scenarios written by the video game storyline copywriters – allowing them to test more scenarios than they would be able to if they relied exclusively on real-life experience. Scenarios would involve 262 types of vehicles, more than a thousand different unpredictable pedestrians and animals, 14 weather conditions and numerous bridges, traffic signals, tunnels, and intersections.

video game

The Verge.

Defending the idea for a plan that is designed to mature a technology, Nio’s Simulation Principal Engineer Davide Bacchet argues that relying on data from the roads, and only roads, is not practical. Bacchet leads the simulation effort in California for Nio – a startup competing with established giants heavyweights like Ford, Tesla and Google to introduce driverless cars by 2020. Bacchet finds video games an excellent way to train their technology at Nio: “With simulation, you can run the same scenario over and over again for infinite times, then test it again.”

Previously, video games have been inspired by real-life events. Iranian-born GTA director Navid Khonsari developed a video game based on the 1979 Iranian revolution. Popular first-person shooter franchise Call of Duty is another example, with games influenced by events like the war on terror in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan – as well as the Egyptian 2011 Revolution in Call of Duty: Black Ops III. The announcement that autonomous car developers will use GTA to mature their technology is a role reversal of sorts.