The $80 million joyride: Inside Iowa's NADS-1 driving simulator

The NADS-1 (National Advanced Driving Simulator) at the University of Iowa is as close to driving as you can get without driving a real car. One of the two most sophisticated driving simulators in the world, it delivers its ultra-realistic driving experience thanks to $80 million worth of software and sophisticated hydraulics, not to mention the unmatched expertise of the U. Iowa research and development team who designed and built it.

Completing the illusion: a real car interior, nestled inside a huge pod that rapidly moves around a room the size of a basketball court. The seats, steering wheel and pedals all feel real because they are. It's a real car, just without the engine or wheels.

We stepped into the sim for this firsthand adventure, and what did we experience? Those graphics projected onto eight huge screens all around aren't even the best part — it's the near-total realism we felt when we slammed on the brakes. Watch the video above for our hands-on (and body-on) adventure, then hit the Continue jump for more info and pics of this epic driving sim.

No wonder the NADS-1 is used for research projects such as driving while using cellphones and sleep apnea studies: It's perfect. Accelerate, and you're pressed into the seat. Execute an evasive maneuver, and you're tossed from side to side in the car, just like the real thing. Run off the road and into the gravel on the road's shoulder, and you can feel it in the steering wheel. And because the graphics you're seeing exactly match the g-forces your body's feeling, there's no seasickness.

The result is an amazing experience that feels exactly like the real thing. The researchers put us on a two-lane course, and toyed with us. They lulled us into relaxing for a while, and then sprung desperately dangerous situations on us that required some serious swerving. How did we do? Let's just say we lived.