Toyota Motor is planning to integrate various self-driving features into its vehicles within the next five years. The latest announcement comes as the company seeks to leverage its $1 billion investment in autonomous vehicle research, and stay in the game as its competitors race toward putting self-driving cars on the road.
In the years leading up to 2021, Toyota expects to add driver assistance systems into its vehicles. Such systems perform safety-related maneuvers designed to avoid collisions, Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute (TRI) CEO, told Reuters.
"The intelligence of the car would figure out a plan for evasive action … Essentially (it would) be like a guardian angel, pushing on the accelerators, pushing on the steering wheel, pushing on the brake in parallel with you," Pratt told Reuters.
[Forget self-driving cars. What about solar-powered aircraft? Read Solar Impulse 2: 11 Images From Its Awe-Inspiring Journey.]
This type of "guardian angel" driving is being developed in the TRI in Palo Alto, Calif., one of three such centers the automaker has opened since last year. In an announcement earlier this year, the company explained the focus of each of its TRI locations. The Palo Alto TRI focuses on assisting drivers when needed. Its TRI center in Ann Arbor, Mich., will delve into fully autonomous driving, while its TRI center in Cambridge, Mass., will focus on deep machine learning and simulation.
When Toyota announced its $1 billion investment to create TRI centers, it emphasized that its use of AI and robotics would extend well beyond the self-driving car, and include uses in the home and other applications. Although Toyota relies on vehicle sales to drive its business, it is also apparently considering ways to develop other sources of revenue in light of aging populations in the US and Japan.
For example, self-driving cars could serve as a useful tool for those whose mobility is restricted. Toyota may be banking on the notion that having other automated, machine learning devices in the home would also be beneficial.
In the meantime, Toyota is in a race with other automakers and technology titans to get its get self-driving cars on the road.
Nissan, for example, last year announced tests of a driverless prototype car. The company expects to have the vehicle ready to navigate heavy highway traffic by the end of 2016. By 2018, Nissan is aiming to have its test car handle lane changes on multilane highways.
BMW expects to release its self-driving iNEXT electric car in 2021. Autonomous driving pioneer Google and high-end electric carmaker Tesla Motors already have test vehicles out on the road and are seeking to get them fast-tracked to market.
All of this effort aside, how soon will consumers be ready to embrace driverless cars? Perhaps a staged approached to automated driving may be the path to follow.