“We aim to be operational by 2020, the year when Tokyo welcomes the Olympics Games”, Yoshida Moritaka, Toyota’s chief safety technology officer, told media.
Toyota has been experimenting with driverless cars since the 1990s but only the latest advancement in sensor and connectivity technology has allowed the company to move closer to reality. But he acknowledged the technology was not yet ready to be used on roads with pedestrians and cyclists.
With the advancement of sensors and telecommunications, such technology has been catching on, particularly as a safety measure in hard-to-execute manoeuvres such as parking. It’s also not very fast; about 37 miles per hour. At that point, Toyota’s autonomous drive technology – like many other automakers – will not only be able to talk to other cars and communicate important information about each vehicle’s position and destination, but also warn cars several miles away of queues and accidents, helping to minimize tailgates and disperse congestion quickly by sending other cars along different routes.
According to Toyota, a driver would switch to an automated driving mode once they passed through a toll gate and entered a highway on-ramp.
That is not unlike Freightliner Inspiration autonomous trucks where the truck driver engages the “highway pilot” in a way similar to engaging the cruise control with controls mounted on the steering wheel. Called Highway Teammate, Toyota says the demonstrator model paves the way for putting these features into series production by 2020. So far, the track record of self-driving cars has been strong, but testing has largely been done in controlled environments. While it’s not surprising that Toyota is joining a few Silicon Valley rivals by jumping into the future-friendly space, what might alarm auto enthusiasts is the claim the automaker made that it has been researching and developing autonomous driving technology “since the 1990s”.