Toyota aiming to reduce driving deaths with technology
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.