Toyota, Lexus unveil autonomous car research vehicle and plans at CES

First Posted: Jan 07, 2013 04:32 PM EST

The inevitable development of fully automated and autonomous automobiles seems to progress well, with Google's driverless car prototype on the road this year. But many of the advanced technologies needed for such futuristic cars, mostly sensors like radar, lasers, 360 degree cameras and GPS, all connected to a powerful and smart board-computer, are already available and integrated in some upper-class but mass-produced cars on the market.

At the CES, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) and its Lexus Division unveiled the "advanced active safety research vehicle" for the first time, demonstrating their ongoing efforts around automated vehicle safety technologies, with the goal to reduce global traffic fatalities and injuries.

But since car companies still sell cars mostly to drivers, and not as a mobility solution to society as a whole, they have to emphasize the importance and relevance of the driver, and the superior personal safety of passengers in advanced cars. That will eventually change with ever advancing technology and changing lifestyles. For now, the new technologies already benefit everyone with increased safety, and will automatically lead to more convenience and much more efficient mobility in the medium and long-term.

Toyota thus presents its guiding strategy, which they call the Integrated Safety Management Concept, as a system that "views traffic safety as a holistic blend of people, vehicles and the driving environment. The strategy carries through five phases of operation:

  •  Initial time the driver and car begin a journey from a parked position
  •  Active safety systems designed to avoid a crash
  •  Pre-crash aimed at preparing for a collision
  •  Passive safety to help survive a crash
  •  Rescue and response after a crash has occurred"

"In our pursuit of developing more advanced automated technologies, we believe the driver must be fully engaged," said Mark Templin, Toyota group vice president and general manger of the Lexus Division. "For Toyota and Lexus, a driverless car is just a part of the story. Our vision is a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving."

The company explains that their research vehicle serves as a testing platform aimed at the development of such systems, capable of enhancing the driver's perception of his environment, assisting in the decision-making process and improving overall driving skills:

"The Lexus advanced active safety research vehicle is equipped with an array of sensors and automated control systems to observe, process and respond to the vehicle's surroundings. These include GPS, stereo cameras, radar and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) laser tracking.

The vehicle systems are capable of tasks such as scanning movement of objects around it, identifying a green light from a red light and measuring the trajectory of the vehicle on the road.

  •  A 360-degree LIDAR laser 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 light detection 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 distance measurement indicator located on a rear wheel measures travel distance and speed of the vehicle.
  •  An inertial measurements 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."

Toyota and their Lexus division go on to list the advanced safety technologies that we consumers can already buy with a new luxury 2013 version Lexus LS, which they say features "the world's most advanced Pre-Collision System (A-PCS):

The system helps the driver avoid or mitigate collisions with vehicles or pedestrians under a wide range of city or highway speeds, even at night. The 2013 Lexus LS also features an upgraded Lane-Keep Assist system (LKA) that employs sensors to help monitor the vehicle's position within the driving lane and respond to potentially dangerous conditions. An enhanced Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with rear millimeter-wave radar monitors the vehicle rear side blind spots at 10 miles per hour or more, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) helps warn drivers to the approach of other vehicles when backing up. While on the road, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) constantly monitors the distance to vehicles ahead and is capable of operating at any speed, bringing the vehicle to a complete stop, and resuming at the preset speed once the road ahead is clear."

But whats more, there are now globally coordinated efforts emerging to develop an "Intelligent Transportation System" (ITS). Major automakers and regulators are working on this cooperatively, coordinating with international ITS governing bodies.

In the U.S., Toyota is "part of the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP) Vehicle Safety Communications 3 (VSC3) Consortium of eight automotive manufacturers conducting research and development on vehicle-infrastructure safety support systems and vehicles to support testing of those systems. Features collectively under exploration include emergency electronic brake lights, forward collision warning, blind spot warning/lane change warning, do not pass warning, intersection movement assist and left turn assist."

Toyota says that the company will continue step-by-step with the layered introduction of individual, proven technologies within regulatory, legal and social frameworks acceptable in each country.

To accelerate development of ITS technologies like vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside infrastructure communications, Toyota began full-scale operations in November at new 8.6 acre ITS proving grounds, located within the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center in Susono City, Japan. Modeled after urban roads, the driving environment replicates roads and traffic signals and simulates real-life traffic situations using other vehicles, pedestrians and control devices.

ITS uses dedicated short wave signals to link vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure radio communications over a wide area to create potential collision warnings. Alerts include:

  •  Impending collision at a blind intersection
  •  Vehicle changing lanes in another vehicle's blind spot
  •  Rear collision with a vehicle stopped ahead

The system is designed to help prevent accidents involving pedestrians and other vehicles using information continuously collected by the vehicle from other vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians. Connecting people, vehicles, traffic environments and infrastructure with state-of-the-art electronic and telecommunications technologies will help move toward safer and more efficient traffic environments. The Toyota ITS Proving Grounds are designed to assist the company work toward the early practical adoption of evermore reliable systems by repeatedly conducting testing that can be difficult to perform on public roads, with changing environments.

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