Toyota is taking a different approach to the autonomous driving scenario that is speeding into our driving lives, choosing to make the technology a teammate rather than a replacement player.
The company is promoting its Mobility Teammate Concept, which is its vision in contributing to the ultimate goal of autonomous driving – to eliminate traffic casualties – but with the realization that it’s about more. It’s also about providing everyone (including seniors and the disabled) with the freedom of mobility that comes from owning a vehicle.
Disabled drivers sometimes have to rely on other forms of transportation other than just getting behind the wheel and going, and there comes a time when society insists that seniors give up their licenses because they are no longer able to handle the quick decisions and manoeuvres driving requires.
Toyota likens the Mobility Teammate Concept to the relationships between close friends, “who share a common purpose, sometimes watching over each other and sometimes helping each other out.” The company’s approach is to build relationships between drivers and cars, which basically shares the same purpose of getting to a destination as relaxed and trouble free as possible.
It acknowledges the utility of automated driving while preserving the fun of driving and breaks the concept down into three types of intelligence – Driving Intelligence (advanced recognition and predictive decision making); Connected Intelligence (vehicle to other road users and road infrastructure); and Interactive Intelligence (recognition of driver status and transfer of control between driver and vehicle).
The first phase of bringing that concept to reality is now in full real-word testing – the Highway Teammate, a Lexus GS that displays the capabilities of the next-generation of driving aid technologies to take the mundane and repetitive chores out of highway driving, while making it safer by allowing the vehicle to control the required safety chores in a regulated manner.
The semi-autonomous Lexus has been testing its mettle on Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway (a network of toll highways with many sharp curves and multi-lane merges that require caution to drive safely), trying out a series of manoeuvres covering a variety of automated functions, including getting up to the posted speed limits, maintaining speed and gaps, maintaining and changing lanes, and slowing to exit the highway.
The system is engaged by the driver after passing through the toll gate, with the technology able to pinpoint the vehicle’s position using highly accurate road map data, while recognizing nearby vehicles and hazards through multiple external sensors. The technology then selects the appropriate route and lanes depending on the intended destination (again programmed by the driver).
Based on data inputs, Highway Teammate then automatically operates the steering wheel, accelerator and brakes to achieve the appropriate speed and driving lines. The technology has so far successfully combined the recognition and decision making processes with the decisive action required of highway driving, and Toyota hopes to have products with this technology in the marketplace around 2020.