Toyota has set out its global vision of how it wants to reduce the 1.3 million lives lost each year in traffic accidents towards zero. Speaking in a double interview at an Advanced Technology Seminar hosted at Toyota’s European R&D Centre in Belgium, Seigo Kuzumaki, Chief Professional Engineer in charge of Safety R&D and Government Technology Affairs, and Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), detailed the company’s approach to automated driving, an issue that has moved to the forefront of automotive industry debate.
Presented as question-and-answer, their views cover Toyota’s current position on how automated driving can be used as a means of significantly improving road safety.
What is the main driving force behind Toyota’s automated driving programme?
Kuzukami: “Toyota wants safe and ever-better mobility for all. We don’t want people to worry about the possibility they might be involved in an accident. When someone gets into a car, you can just say ‘have fun’ instead of ‘be careful’. With automated driving we set ourselves the goal of reducing the more than 1.3 million lives currently lost in traffic accidents around the world each year.”
Pratt: “In addition, everyone – and we mean everyone, including elderly people and those with physical disabilities – who is unable to drive today would be able to move safely anywhere they want to go.”
How do you plan to make this happen?
Kuzumaki: “The future mobility we envision is built on the concept that the car will help you remain safe. The car is watching over you, like a teammate would. That’s why we have dubbed our approach to mobility the Mobility Teammate Concept.”
Pratt: “Over time, as a car’s artificial intelligence (AI) improves, the car will increasingly learn drivers’ and passengers’ habits and preferences. AI will sometimes follow these preferences; at others, it will warn the driver. Car and driver will evolve together and become inseparable.”
How does that work in practice?
Pratt: “Toyota distinguishes two types of vehicle autonomy: Chauffeur and Guardian. The Chauffeur concept is automated driving when the driver doesn’t want to, or cannot drive. In Guardian mode, a human does the driving, supported by the system’s advanced driving assistance. What is important to emphasise in our approach is that we leave the choice to the driver. Even when the car is fully automated, drivers will still be able to enjoy the fun and freedom of driving, as they wish.”
Kuzumaki: “These advanced safety technologies are only one side of the equation. We take a two-axis approach: as well as developing cutting-edge technologies, we are working to popularise safety features by making them more affordable, across our range. Only when safety technologies are fitted to the full vehicle line-up, including entry-level models, can we make a real difference. We are proud that our accident avoidance features are today fitted to 92 per cent of our European new car sales, helping us in our drive towards zero traffic accidents.”
That sounds promising, but when can we expect to see all of this on the road?
Kuzumaki: “In 2020 we will introduce Highway Teammate. Highway Teammate is automated driving on highways, merging onto or exiting highways, overtaking other vehicles and changing lanes. That is, if the driver wants. In line with our philosophy, the system will always collaborate with the driver.”
No automated driving on ordinary roads then?
Pratt: “In the early 2020s we plan to introduce Urban Teammate, which is automated driving on ordinary roads. With more advanced AI, Urban Teammate will enable further driving automation.”
What is your stance on collaboration versus competition in this field?
Pratt: “Concerning collaboration, we remain very open. Competition and collaboration need to be carefully managed, as we are in an ever-changing environment.”
Kuzumaki: “Indeed, we should make it clear in what fields companies should compete and collaborate. For example, high-accuracy mapping is an area where information could be shared. Collaboration is important, but so is competition to accelerate innovation.”
How does the Toyota Research Institute fit into Toyota’s global R&D structure?
Pratt: “At Toyota, Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is at the heart of everything we do. It remains a foundation and one of our biggest strengths. However, in these unprecedented times, we need additional approaches. In this particular domain, it’s simply not enough to only take small steps. You have to take leaps, which often results in failure. If you are lucky, if you have the courage to keep failing again and again, suddenly you succeed. TRI’s mission is to explore spaces and take these leaps for Toyota. In addition to the work we’re doing ourselves, we recently created Toyota AI Ventures, a corporate venture capital fund designed to cultivate and invest in the entrepreneurial spirit of start-ups in the fields of data, AI/AD, machine learning, robotics etc.”
How do you aim for the highest level of safety? How safe is safe enough?
Pratt: “Writing the software is relatively easy to do. The hardest part is predicting human behaviour. Will the car turn left or right? Will the child follow the ball? We are building a statistical model based on the data we gather from real human behaviour. From these statistics we create a simulated environment and test our autonomy software in reaction to that. But this is not enough. We simulate many more miles with much worse traffic than actually happens in the real world. Finally, we complement these simulations with physical testing, as the road remains the best test environment. By combining simulation and real world driving, we aim to reach the trillion-mile challenge Toyota set itself.”
Kuzumaki: “It is crucial that the vehicle is completely safe on its own. This means without the need for interaction with infrastructure or other vehicles. This ensures the vehicle can safely navigate, even when there’s a lack of service caused by a natural disaster, for instance. As these vehicles will have to deal with extreme weather and traffic situations, the system requires a mix of many different sensors that are complementary to one another. Lidar, for example, struggles with snow.”
To conclude, what are the remaining challenges for the future of mobility?
Pratt: “Reaching Level 5 autonomy is definitely one of the remaining challenges. AI does not have the sufficient level of human reasoning at the moment. I challenge everyone who says they know when they’ll achieve Level 5. Social acceptance is another challenge. Not everyone is ready to embrace AI/AD. However, we are starting to see a change in mindset. Remember lifts in the past? They used to be manned, but over time automatic lifts became widely accepted. We must ensure that our products are safe and that automated vehicles perform significantly better than a human driver if we want a mother to trust her children’s lives with an automated car.”
To see Toyota’s Automated Driving White Paper, go to www.Automatedtoyota.com.