Toyota to Focus on Developing Self-Driving Tech for Commercial Applications Before Personal Vehicles
With so much of the auto industry focused on developing self-driving cars, concerns over safety and government regulations that limit their deployment means it could be years, or decades before driverless vehicles share the road with human operated ones.
However, commercials applications such as autonomous trucks and delivery vehicles are believed to be a more attainable goal over the next few years. For one, these vehicles don't have to deal with pedestrians or rely on complex hardware and software to navigate urban environments, that's why Japan's Toyota Motor Corp plans to focus first on the development of autonomous technology for commercial vehicles.
The automaker said it plans to first deploy advanced self-driving features in commercial vehicles before adding them to cars built for personal use, a senior official at the Japanese auto major said on Tuesday.
According to Toyota, it will be easier to apply self-driving technology that does not require constant and direct human-monitoring to taxis and vehicles Toyota is developing, including on-demand ride services, mobile shops and ambulatory hospitals, said James Kuffner, chief of Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), which is developing automated driving, robotics and AI technology for Toyota.
The operators of these fleet vehicles could control when and where they are deployed and oversee their maintenance, he told reporters at the opening of its new offices in Tokyo.
"It will take more time to achieve ‘Level 4' for a personally-owned vehicle," Kuffner said.
"Level 4 is really what we're striving for to first appear in mobility as a service," he added.
Toyota developed this autonomous shuttle to operate on a fixed route at the 2020 Toyko Olympics.
Level-4 autonomous vehicles are defined as as "fully-autonomous" and can operate in their designated domain without human intervention.
As part of its strategy to develop self-driving cars over the next few decades,Toyota is getting ready to release its first so-called ‘Level 2' autonomous car capable of driving itself on the highway. However, this system acts more like advanced cruise control on the highway and is not intended for city driving.
These level-2 autonomous vehicles are considered "partial autonomous" and not capable of true self-driving. Vehicle equipped with level-2 autonomy rely on a human driver for a majority of the time.
In current systems on the market, a driver has to keep their hands on the wheel periodically for the system to remain active and the system cannot handle intersections and complex urban environments. An example of this system is Cadillac's Super Cruise.
Toyota is pushing ahead its timeline for self-driving technology as other AI-based advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), while many of its competitors are already rushing to market vehicles capable of autonomous highway driving. One example is Tesla's Autopilot automated highway driving system.
Many other automakers have scaled back their autonomous driving targets after numerous fatal accidents involving Tesla vehicles operating on Autopilot, which raised concerns about the safety of the technology.
Although Tesla blames the fatalities on inattentive drivers who failed to monitor the vehicle properly while in autonomous mode, the accidents show just how far the technology needs to evolve before its widely deployed in the auto industry and approved by government regulators.
Self-driving trucks on the other hand, may be closer than you think.
Last month, Silicon Valley autonomous truck startup Plus.ai drove a semi truck loaded with a shipment of butter from California to Pennsylvania in autonomous mode to demonstrate how well its technology performs.
Plus.ai said the truck made the cross-country journey without any human intervention on the truck's self-driving system, backing up Toyota's belief that the widespread use of autonomous technology might debut first in commercial vehicles.
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