Toy­ota aim­ing to re­duce driv­ing deaths with tech­nol­ogy

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Graeme Fletcher

ANN AR­BOR, Mich. — Ahead of the In­tel­li­gent Trans­porta­tion Sys­tem (ITS) World Congress, which was held in Detroit this year, Toy­ota hosted an ad­vanced safety sem­i­nar to showcase its vi­sion for a safer driv­ing fu­ture.

The ob­jec­tive is to achieve zero traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties. If a col­li­sion is un­avoid­able, us­ing the car and its safety sys­tems to pre­vent death is the aim. In many cases, it is the fact the driver is dis­tracted that leads to a col­li­sion: ac­cord­ing to Toy­ota, one in 10 deaths are di­rectly re­lated to dis­tracted driv­ing, mak­ing it a big­ger prob­lem than im­paired driv­ing.

To reach its goal, Toy­ota will bring its ac­tive safety sys­tems, in­clud­ing ad­vanced Pre-Col­li­sion, to its en­tire range of cars start­ing with 2015 mod­els. By 2017, ev­ery Toy­ota will be equipped with a full suite of its safety-re­lated tech­nolo­gies.

An in­te­gral part of Toy­ota’s fa­tal­ity-free push is found in the Col­lab­o­ra­tive Safety Re­search Cen­tre (CSRC) the company funds. It brings aca­demics to­gether un­der one um­brella to study all as­pects of road safety.

The lone Cana­dian par­tic­i­pant is the Univer­sity of Toronto and the leader there is pro­fes­sor Birsen Don­mez. Her group is work­ing on de­ter­min­ing how feed­back sys­tems should be de­signed to help pre­vent risky be­hav­iours with­out im­pos­ing an ad­di­tional work­load or be­com­ing a dis­trac­tion to the driver. The goal is to in­form with­out sen­sory over­load.

The bulk of the sem­i­nar ad­dressed au­ton­o­mous driv­ing. As it stands, many cars al­ready have the abil­ity to pi­lot them­selves us­ing ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies. A car that can self-park can follow a road us­ing the same self-steer­ing func­tion and the in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by on-board cam­eras and radars. Like­wise, ad­vanced adap­tive cruise con­trol sys­tems al­low the car to follow the ve­hi­cle ahead at a pre­set dis­tance. Adding a stop/go func­tion — some­thing al­ready avail­able — to this al­lows the car to func­tion in stop and go traf­fic. Rear-mounted radars al­low cross-traf­fic de­tec­tion to be in­cor­po­rated into ad­vanced sen­sor-based park­ing sys­tems.

It’s not dif­fi­cult to see all of th­ese sys­tems be­ing merged to give the car the abil­ity to drive au- tonomously. How­ever it is a very costly ven­ture — Toy­ota spends around $1-mil­lion each and ev­ery hour on re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

All of this comes to­gether in Toy­ota’s Au­to­mated High­way Driv­ing As­sist (AHDA) sys­tem. It in­te­grates Dy­namic Radar Cruise Con­trol (DRCC), Lane Trace Con­trol (LTC) along with the Pre­dic­tive and In­ter­ac­tive Hu­man Ma­chine In­ter­face (HMI) to keep the ve­hi­cle in the lane and at a safe dis­tance from oth­ers road users. The HMI en­sures the driver keeps hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. If the driver is dis­tracted or takes their hands off the wheel the sys­tem dis­en­gages.

One of the fea­tures be­ing eval­u­ated un­der CSRC is the use of Li­dar to cre­ate a 3-D im­age of the car’s sur­round­ings. In sim­ple terms, it emits laser light and then eval­u­ates the re­flected light to build an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of the car’s en­vi­ron­ment. This, when com­bined with the cam­era and radar data, yields enough in­for­ma­tion to turn the car loose in an every­day driv­ing sit­u­a­tion with­out it crash­ing into other ve­hi­cles, pedes­tri­ans or ob­sta­cles.

The tech­nol­ogy was demon­strated at the sem­i­nar by map­ping the con­fer­ence room and lo­cat­ing the cars and peo­ple mov­ing around. The pic­ture looks pretty crude to the hu­man eye, but to a com­puter the in­for­ma­tion makes per­fect sense.

Another cool fea­ture be­ing de­vel­oped un­der the CSRC pro­gram is a 3-D head-up dis­play. It projects a real-time im­age ahead of the driver. The in­for­ma­tion shown in­cludes the usual speed and nav­i­ga­tion func­tions and also has the abil­ity to iden­tify a pedes­trian in po­si­tion that is not im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent — us­ing Li­dar to spot a hand stick­ing out from be­hind a tree would be enough in­for­ma­tion to gen­er­ate the warn­ing.

Toy­ota is also us­ing a walk­ing dummy (called Steve) to test the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween pedes­tri­ans and the car’s sens­ing sys­tems.

The fi­nal part of the au­ton­o­mous driv­ing equa­tion is the car’s abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other ve­hi­cles and its en­vi­ron­ment — V2V (ve­hi­cle to ve­hi­cle) and V2I (ve­hi­cle to in­fra­struc­ture) sys­tems.

In sim­ple terms, V2V al­lows one car to tell the other cars in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity what it is about to do, so noth­ing comes as a sur­prise. V2I broad­ens the abil­ity by send­ing con­nected ve­hi­cles in­for­ma­tion on traf­fic sig­nals and the like. It can also be used to warn of a col­li­sion block­ing the road mid­way around a blind cor­ner. Con­versely, if a con­nected car is in­volved in a crash, all other ve­hi­cles are warned and emer­gency ser­vices in­formed. It sounds ideal.

The sem­i­nar also brought two less-ap­peal­ing as­pects of the au­ton­o­mous age to light. First, if both the V2V and V2I sys­tems are to work as en­vi­sioned, there must be enough con­nected cars on the road for it to func­tion ef­fec­tively. David Strick­land, for­mer head of the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion and one of the panel mem­bers, al­luded to this as­pect dur­ing his speech.

If the ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy needed to make V2V/ V2I work is loaded into top-of-the-line mod­els, it will take too long to reach crit­i­cal mass. Toy­ota sold roughly 350,000 Corol­las in North Amer­ica in 2013 — that’s 32 times more than the Lexus LS (11,000 units in 2013) and 25 times more than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (13,800). How does the in­dus­try keep en­try-level rides af­ford­able if they are to be V2V/V2I com­pli­ant?

Sec­ond, what hap­pens to the in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by the V2I sys­tem? It knows what ev­ery con­nected car is do­ing ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery drive. This means it has huge rev­enue po­ten­tial. A hardup au­thor­ity sim­ply taps into the in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets of­fend­ers, which pads the cof­fers. It has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a po­lice state with­out the need for po­lice.

This can be likened to the oner­ous move to re­duce in­surance costs by in­stalling a de­vice that mon­i­tors the driver’s habits and stores the in­for­ma­tion for fu­ture use. Yes, there’s an up­front dis­count for driv­ers sign­ing up for the pro­gram, but when Big Brother In­surance finds a driver who has never been tick­eted or in­volved in a col­li­sion prac­tis­ing dis­tracted driv­ing as iden­ti­fied by the de­vice, you know in­surance pre­mi­ums will spi­ral out of con­trol.

Hope­fully my driv­ing gloves will have been parked long be­fore this be­comes manda­tory.


Fu­ture Toy­ota safety sys­tems in­clude Dy­namic Radar Cruise Con­trol and Lane Trace Con­trol. A walk­ing dummy named Steve, in­set, tests the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween pedes­tri­ans and the car’s sens­ing sys­tems.

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