Toyota sounded a cautionary note on self-driving cars amid the global hype that fully autonomous vehicles could soon become a regular sight on public roads.
The focus on increasingly sophisticated stages of autonomous driving that lead to Level 5 cars, which need no steering wheel or human input, is misplaced, according to Toyota’s top researchers.
Level 5 cars will need an achievement in performance in artificial intelligence that no one knows how to do, Gill Pratt, head of the Toyota Research Institute, said last month at a seminar in Toyota’s technical center near Brussels.
Seigo Kuzumaki, Toyota’s assistant chief safety officer, said: “Toyota supports SAE level definitions but understands there are challenges in the car-to-driver handover when the system cannot drive on its own. “In addition we need to think about changes in driving conditions such as weather, but the SAE doesn’t cover such factors,” he said.
Toyota’s accident avoidance features are fitted on 92 percent of the company’s European sales. They are packaged as Toyota Safety Sense and the Lexus Safety System Plus and include adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, Autonomous Emergency Braking, pre-collision warnings, Road Sign Assist and automatic headlights that toggle between low and high beams. Lexus models add active lane keeping and a more sophisticated adaptive high beam system.
Mobility services growth
Safety benefits aside, Pratt said that autonomous technology research was being driven by a need to remain competitive with other automakers. “We want to be honest about other reasons why we are spending so much money on this,” he said. “Of course some of the competition is happening in order to affect what happens in the dealership — the purchase of personally owned vehicles.”
Another reason is the anticipated growth in mobility as a service, or MAAS, which includes car sharing, automated taxis and ride-hailing companies like Uber in which Toyota has a small stake. “It’s estimated that the size of the MAAS market is between five and 10 times as large as the personally owned vehicle market,” he said. With the largest cost being drivers, autonomous features could reduce the per-kilometer cost by 50 percent, he said.