CES 2019: Toyota's offering its Guardian semi-autonomous system to the industry

The key goal of the Guardian system is "amplifying, rather than replacing, human ability," according to Toyota.

Steven Ewing Former managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Steven Ewing
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Lexus LS 500h autonomous research car

autonomous driving efforts are currently bundled into two distinct modes: 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."

Gill Pratt of Toyota Research Institute

One of Toyota's autonomous research and development cars was involved in a crash on a highway in California. Gill Pratt believes Toyota Guardian could have prevented this collision.

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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 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.

Lexus LS 500h autonomous research car
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Lexus LS 500h autonomous research car

This Lexus LS 500h serves as TRI's Platform 4.0 development car, which Toyota will use to test its Guardian system.


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 Platform 4.0 research and development car, which also debuted at CES 2019.

Lexus LS 500h is Toyota's latest autonomous research platform

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Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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