Toyota's autonomous driving efforts are currently bundled into : Chauffeur and Guardian. The first acts, well, like a chauffeur, with the intent of being able to deliver full Level 5 vehicle autonomy. Guardian, meanwhile, is meant to assist a human driver, or supplement a Chauffeur-like system. And Toyota believes its system will be so good, it's going to offer it to the entire automotive industry.
"We humans have an inherent need for autonomy, which is much stronger than our desire for autonomous cars," Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, said in a statement. And that's why, he says, the goal of Guardian is "amplifying, rather than replacing, human ability."
"We have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible, as soon as possible," Pratt said.
As for exactly how Toyota will offer Guardian to the world, that part is still unclear. "We have had talks with many different players but I'm not at liberty to discuss any of those specific things," Pratt said in an interview at CES 2019. "We're not sure if it's going to be hardware and software, or just software, or what that's going to be like."
During its presentation at CES 2019, Toyota showed footage from a three-car collision on the I-80 freeway in Northern California, where its Platform 2.0 autonomous development car was struck by another vehicle. "Could a future of Toyota Guardian have prevented or mitigated the crash that you just saw?" Pratt asked the attending media. "We believe the answer is 'yes'."
Pratt said that with Guardian, the Lexus LS development car's rear sensors could have seen the impending collision, and knowing the lane in front of it was clear, could have accelerated to avoid being involved.
"Blended envelope control" is how Pratt describes Guardian. "It's not a discreet on/off switch," he said during the CES presentation, "Rather, it's a seamless blend of human and machine working together as teammates, and we extract the best skills from each one."
Anti-lock braking, Pratt says, is an example of this sort of technology. In the event of a skid, the car's ABS takes over and reduces brake pressure, even though the driver may have their foot pressed hard on the pedal.
Too, automatic emergency braking is the sort of technology that exists in the same spirit of Guardian. "The system is waiting for you to make a mistake," Pratt said. Toyota then asks, "How much better could those systems get?"
Pratt says Toyota is investigating whether or not Guardian will be the sort of system you can still turn on and off. "What if the system and the driver disagree with each other? Who should win?" He posits. "If our system isn't sure, the driver should win. ... But there may come a time when we actually say, 'sorry, we know better.'"
"When the car does need to make an evasive maneuver, we don't necessarily need to yank the steering wheel out of the driver's hand," Ryan Eustice, TRI's senior vice president of automated driving, said at CES. In fact, the Guardian test car has a redundant set of driving controls in the front passenger seat, where Toyota can explore steer-, brake- and throttle-by-wire technology.
As for timing, Pratt says its Guardian technology could be available for release in the next few years -- "in the early 2020s," he says. Toyota plans to offer Guardian as standard equipment on the e-Palette platforms that it introduced at CES 2018, as well. TRI is currently testing Guardian, as well as Chauffeur, on its, which also debuted at CES 2019.
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