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There's still a way to go before autonomous vehicles are the norm

Autonomous vehicles will revolutionize mobility and transform society, but…

Published: November 8, 2017, 3:35 PM
Updated: November 13, 2017, 5:28 AM

Autonomous Vehicles - Autonomous Drive?  Not yet!

TORONTO, ON – Autonomous vehicles have the potential to revolutionize mobility and transform society, according to Larry Hutchinson, president and CEO of Toyota Canada (TCI). But there’s still a lot of work to be done before they become the norm.

“The autonomous vehicle is a great opportunity for the automotive industry and will change society as we know it. Just don’t expect it to happen tomorrow,” cautioned Hutchinson, during his keynote address at the 2017 TalkAUTO conference in Toronto.

TalkAUTO is an annual conference for Canadian automotive industry influencers, jointly organized by J.D. Power and Canadian Black Book.

A 31-year veteran of Toyota Canada, Hutchinson says we’ve never seen the pace of change that we’re seeing right now. “Automated vehicle technology is going to revolutionize mobility – and transform society – in ways more profound than the move from the horse-drawn carriage to the Model T,” he predicted.

For Toyota, the primary goal of vehicle autonomy is its impact on safety, he explained –  “Safety improvements alone justify the investments being made.”)

Lexus LS+ concept - The Lexus LS  is a partially-autonomous car that drove itself onto the stage at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show. It is a showcase for the self-driving technology Lexus expects to be in production by 2020.

But in the big picture, safety is just one of the benefits, along with more fluid traffic flow, reduced congestion, and increased mobility for many segments of our population.

“Think about the life-changing impact autonomous vehicles will have on the millions of people who have mobility challenges,” he noted. “Older people, people with disabilities and people who can’t afford their own car. In the future, they’ll have access to mobility we just can’t provide today.”

While multiple companies both within and outside the auto industry are in a race to bring autonomous vehicles to market, Toyota holds more patents in the field than any other company, according to a 2016 report by Thomson Reuters. But Hutchinson stressed that his company’s focus isn’t on getting there first.  It’s on getting it right!

“How safe is safe? When do we decide it’s okay to roll a technology out into millions of vehicles?” he asked.  “For us, it’s clear: Safety is paramount. So nothing goes on or into a Toyota until it’s proven.”

Hutchinson highlighted some of the challenges facing the industry in bringing autonomous vehicles (AVs) to market.

For sure, autonomous is coming he said – because the benefits are too great to be ignored. But it’s not going to be here tomorrow.  For the foreseeable future, our roads will be home to an increasing mix of vehicles: conventional, automated and, eventually, autonomous.

Not only is much more research required to perfect the technology, but also to prepare society for its arrival. Ethics, regulations, infrastructure, and consumers will all be important hurdles to the mainstreaming of autonomous vehicles.

“It’s going to take the combined efforts of governments, insurance companies, manufacturers, and all kinds of other players to make the mainstream adoption of autonomous vehicles a reality,” Hutchinson emphasized.  “We need to start laying the groundwork today for what will be on our roads tomorrow.”