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What is a simulator?

A simulator is something that has enough of the behaviour of whatever it is simulating to be useful, usually for training. Simulators are used in many areas of training, most notably to help people learn to fly. A jet aircraft simulator is very big and expensive, while a hang-glider simulator is very basic and cheap, with simulators for learning to drive land vehicles coming somewhere in between. Simulators are also used to train operators of complex industrial plant.

In all cases, the key components are realistic controls, a (hidden) model of the dynamics, and realistic feedback (visual, aural, tactile as appropriate) to the person using the simulator.

Bellringing simulators

Simulators for training bell ringers have been around since the 1970s, when the late Peter Cummins invented one, and used it extensively to develop his own ringing, and also to help teach others. His early simulators were built with discrete electronic logic circuits (many of them preserved in the Bellfoundry museum) but modern simulators use standard digital computers running an appropriate program. As well as the 'box' containing the logic, a practical simulator needs connecting to something physical that the trainee can 'ring'. Often this is a real bell, with the clapper fixed to silence it, and the wheel fitted with sensors that send a pulse to the 'box' at the point in the bell's swing when it would normally strike. The 'box' then does the rest. It makes the sound of the trainee's bell in response to the pulse from the sensor, and makes the sounds of all the other bells (the ones being simulated) when they should strike according to the predetermined sequence. The trainee's task is thus to ring the bell and adjust the timing of its swing so that it fits in with the others.

The simulator provides three training advantages. It doesn't require a room full of (patient) ringers to ring the other bells. It strikes all the sounds perfectly, so the trainee only has to worry about his/her own mistakes. It encourages a rhythmic style of ringing, with listening used as the main feedback for accurate striking.

This last benefit might not be obvious to a non-ringer. When all the bells are rung by real ringers there is an additional source of visual information from the movement of the other ropes. Ringers are encouraged to develop 'ropesight' in order to make sense of what is happening around them, but one negative effect is a tendency to rely for timing on following the rope movement of the preceding bell, rather than listening to the actual sound. Since the rope movements do not always accurately reflect the timing of the striking, the resultant ringing is less accurate.

A bellringer needs several sets of skills, not all of which can be helped by a simulator:

Subsequent developments

Since the advent of the basic ringing simulator there have been further developments, some of which had unexpected side effects.


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