Ford Motor Company's advanced, moving-base driving simulator is now busily gathering information to help address one of the most talked about issues today -- the use of cell phones and other electronic devices in cars and trucks. The new VIRTTEX simulator -- for VIRtual Test Track Experiment -- is one of the most advanced laboratories of its kind in the world, according to Ford. Using the controlled laboratory setting, Ford Motor Company engineers are studying everyday driving tasks, such as changing the radio or inserting an audio CD, and how they affect driver performance during a variety of simulated driving experiences. Ford says the goal is ensure that all new technologies on Ford Motor Company vehicles are developed with safety as the first priority. While seated in the 24-foot domed laboratory, drivers are asked to perform such tasks as retrieving voicemail, accessing an electronic address book, making a phone call or settling a fictional business matter. Throughout the experiment, virtual traffic is competing for the driver's attention. For example, the laboratory can simulate the "car" in front with flashing brake lights or the vehicle behind suddenly surging forward. The VIRTTEX lab sits atop six angled hydraulic pistons. At rest, it sits 11 feet off the floor. In operation, the dome is raised and can move up to 10 feet to any side and tilt up to 20 degrees. This broad range of motion helps duplicate forces that are experienced while driving. A Ford Taurus is bolted inside the dome and serves as the first test bed for the driver distraction study. Study participants sit in the driver's seat while a series of color projectors create an illusion of roads and terrain around the vehicle. Because the tasks and the environment can be repeated indefinitely -- as opposed to the real world -- data obtained from VIRTTEX can be used as a basis for scientific conclusions. These conclusions will be shared throughout the industry as early as this fall, according to Ford.