Toyota has bucked the trend and declared it is not interested in developing a driver-less car despite demonstrating a slew of autonomous technologies at events surrounding last week’s Tokyo motor show.
Instead, the global automotive giant insists its focus is on driver assistance for safety rather than the driver being taken out of the equation all together.
“We are not aiming to develop an autonomous drive vehicle,” Toyota safety expert Seigo Kuzamaki told motoring.com.au via an interpreter.
“It is a theoretical research goal but we have no aim to commercialise autonomous driving.”
The Toyota philosophy is in direct contrast with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Nissan and others, who have committed to having autonomous cars on the road within a few years. IT giant Google is also developing its own take on the autonomous car.
Benz, which had an S 500 drive autonomously for 100km on a highway and urban route in Germany mid-year, estimates it will have driver-less cars on the road before 2020.
But Kuzamaki is dubious about that, forecasting it will be the following decade before the technology gains any sort of foothold, primarily because of the need for infrastructure development to support it.
“If we are trying to implement that (autonomous driving) in a limited area or region and all the infrastructure players and all the automotive players are willing to collaborate I think it could be as early as 2020s for autonomous driving to come into reality,” he said.
He revealed an autonomous driving region might be set up as an experiment to support the 2020 Olympic Games which will be held in Tokyo.
“There have been talks and it has been studied,” he said.
Toyota demonstrated several previously announced ‘automated driving technologies’ in Tokyo last week:
* C-ACC, or co-operative adaptive cruise control. Builds on adaptive cruise control by communicating wirelessly with other C-ACC equipped cars to allow the following vehicle to automatically accelerate and decelerate to maintain an even gap.
Toyota says it will aid safety, smooth traffic flow and improve fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
* LTC or Lane Trace Control which uses a mono camera, millimetre-wave radar and sat-nav to follow the road, including sharp corners, without drive input by adjusting steering, engine output and braking force.
* An upgraded Pre-Collision System that now swerves to avoid pedestrians by adding auto-steering to the previous auto-braking function.
All three systems are expected to start appearing in top-end Toyota and Lexus production vehicles from 2015-16, before they trickle down the range.
Both Toyota and Lexus Australia are eager to add the technology to their line-ups as soon as possible.
Kuzamaki said Toyota regarded the terms autonomous driving and automated driving technology as two separate concepts.
“Autonomous driving is more or less driver-less driving,” he said. “Automated driving technology by contrast is a group of technologies for more intelligent driving and the technology to monitor what is outside the car.
“We want to release these detection technologies or intelligent technologies one at a time at the earliest possible opportunity into the market as an automated technology.”
While Toyota is obviously keen to distance itself from the concept of the autonomous car, its technology demonstrations underlined that in a practical sense that is exactly where it is heading.
C-ACC and LTC are bundled into one product dubbed Automated Highway Driving Assist (AHDA), which allowed a Lexus GS to drive along a Tokyo expressway hands-free once it surpassed the activation speed of 40km/h.
LTC will not remain active if swapping lanes as visible lines are required for it to work. But switching it off when leaving a highway is the responsibility of the driver and it will run at walking pace, trickling along in heavy traffic.
“The system is for long and high-speed drives and we are using automatic functionality to relieve the stress of driving in that environment,” insisted Kuzamaki. “It is a very difficult decision to make, when should people come in? When should we release the function?”
LTC enabled the GS to stick in its lane and following a Prius also equipped with C-ACC meant it maintained a steady pace and gap to the car in front. The only problem was a sudden brake by the Prius caught the truck driver behind by surprise and it nearly arrived in our boot!
It did raise the question of the worth of CACC when so few cars will feature the technology when it is launched.
“We haven’t really made detailed research estimating how many cars it will take for C-ACC to be effective,” Kuzamaki admitted.
“But my point is we can’t wait to release the car because (otherwise) critical mass will never be achieved. We will just release the car and try and build up the numbers.”
The PCS was quite straight forward in its operation. Demonstrated in a Prius at the Fujioka Aisin test track, it detected a dummy pedestrian, swerved and pulled up without drama.
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