We've probably all had a go at super-realistic driving games, where we zoom around a virtual track at implausible speeds and frequently bounce off massive tire walls without so much as a scratch.  You wouldn't normally recommend this as the best way for new drivers to learn how to control their cars in a safe and responsible way.  But that's not necessarily the case if the new driver in question is a computer....

The software developers behind the systems that will power autonomous vehicles are increasingly marshalling the potential of artificial intelligence.  AI enables their systems to learn how to navigate road networks effectively and make driving decisions quickly and safely.  One Hungarian start-up, AImotive, has experimented with realistic video games as a substitute for real-life roadways.  Through this it aims to save time and money and move closer to its target of making autonomous driving software available by 2021.

There are obvious limitations to the usefulness of video games in this context.  Even the most sophisticated games have a limited number of scenes, and a game that's based on one real-world city may not help a system learn how to navigate cities elsewhere in the world.  But companies like AImotive seem to think video games have significant potential, at least as a way to teach a self-driving system the basics of steering, accelerating and braking.  And the more sophisticated the simulations that the developers can create, the more the system can learn from them.

Artificial simulations seem unlikely to substitute for the real-world experience that autonomous driving systems will clearly need, but they may offer an efficient way to develop a system's basic "knowledge".  This is also a great example of the convergence that's taking place between transport technology, software development and AI, as well as the potential for cross-fertilisation between different elements of the tech industry.  Watch this space for potential tie-ups between games producers, cutting edge software companies and driverless car manufacturers.  Just watch out for those tire walls in the meantime....