Toyota's Semi-Autonomous Car Will Keep You Safe

Is this Toyota's answer to Google's self-driving car?

2 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum’s digital innovation director.

Toyota's Semi-Autonomous Car Will Keep You Safe

At a CES press conference yesterday, Toyota presented its semi-autonomous Lexus Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle, a car designed to take over from you when an accident is imminent to keep you in one piece. 

To be clear, this is a research vehicle, and it's not designed to turn into a Google-style autonomous car. It's more about a high-level of driver assistance, with the car using sensors and intelligence to augment what its human driver is doing. Think of it as a co-pilot, essentially, there to point things out and give you help when you need it.

Here's video we got from Toyota:

Existing high-end Lexus passenger cars already use cameras and radar and lasers and GPS for things like blind-spot awareness, lane detection, and adaptive cruise, and the Lexus research vehicle just takes all that to the next level in both hardware and software. It can detect other vehicles, track what they're doing, and even tell red lights from green. Here are all the goodies that you'll find on the vehicle:

• A 360-degree LIDAR unit on the roof of the vehicle detects objects around the car up to about 70 meters.

• Three high-definition color cameras detect objects about 150 meters away, including traffic lights using the front camera and approaching vehicles using the side cameras.

• Radars on the front and sides of the vehicle measure the location and speed of objects to create a comprehensive field of vision at intersections.

• A rotary encoder located on a rear wheel measures travel distance and speed of the vehicle.

• An inertial measurement unit on the roof measures acceleration and angle changes to determine vehicle behavior.

• GPS antennas on the roof estimate angle and orientation even before the vehicle is in motion.

More details on the images below (click to enlarge).

Toyota Lexus autonomous car systems

It's interesting that, if you look at the Toyota car and the Google self-driving car, the two are virtually identical in terms of the hardware used. Both rely on a high-end LIDAR on the roof, multiple radars on the sides, GPS and IMU, and a rotary encoder. That said, each vehicle's computing and software systems are probably very different, and Google, having demonstrated its vehicle in real driving conditions, remains the leader when it comes to fully autonomous behavior.

Toyota did comment that the future of this platform is likely full autonomy, but that the nearer term goals of assistive autonomy are really the focus for the moment. It's a "pure research project," Toyota says, but over the past few years we've seen a substantial amount of trickle-down throughout the industry, and projects like this ensures that our cars will continue to get smarter and safer.

We've scheduled some time with Toyota to get more details, so check back early next week for an update.

Images: Toyota

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