The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in California has been working on the test platform with three core principles: to elevate perception capabilities to be an industry pacesetter among automated vehicles; to blend the sensing equipment into the vehicle design with a distinct appearance that is sleek and elegant; and to package the automated vehicle technology in a manner that is easy to reproduce for building a fleet at scale.
"Our team has once again rapidly advanced our automated vehicle research capabilities," said Dr. Gill Pratt, TRI CEO and Toyota Motor Corporation Fellow. "To elevate our test platform to a new level, we tapped Toyota's design and engineering expertise to create an all-new test platform that has the potential to be a benchmark in function and style."
Toyota's engineers have refined the technology package for Platform 3.0 to a more defined, smaller-footprint sensor configuration that can be more readily melded into an existing car's bodywork and design. The system uses Luminar LIDAR sensors that have a 200-meter range and which are now covering a full 360 degrees around the car (most previous generations were forward-looking only). Four high-resolution LIDAR scanning heads can see objects in a full field, including difficult-to-see dark objects.
Those long-range LIDAR sensors are augmented by shorter-range sensors positioned low on all sides of the vehicle. There is one in each front quarter panel and one each on the front and rear bumpers. These detect closer, low-level and small objects near the car.
Where previous generations of the system's computational architecture took up most of the car's trunk, the Platform 3.0 version has been consolidated and condensed into a small box that is about the size of a large subwoofer. It's adorned with the curved-edge triangle that is the TRI logo, matching similar logos on the test platform Lexus to be shown at CES.
Sensors and cameras for the new automated platform were compacted and sized inside their weatherproof housing to be concealed within the sunroof's air cover. This sensor array is both more aerodynamic and closer to the future expectation of fully-integrated, aesthetically-pleasing sensors for production-level vehicles. It replaces the bolt-on sensors and "spinning bucket"-style 360-degree LIDAR sensor previously used in autonomous test vehicles.
Toyota's CALTY Design Research center likened its design of the new rooftop panel to the confident look of an off-road motorcycle helmet. Chrome trim embellishes the panel to enhance the "intelligent minimalism" that was the defining goal of the array's design.
Toyota will begin production of Platform 3.0 vehicles early in 2018 at Toyota's Prototype Development Center in Michigan. These will be produced in low volumes as test vehicles from stock Lexus LS models for testing and development. Production will be kept flexible in order to accommodate rapid developments. TRI has made three major updates to the automated vehicle platform in the past year, two of which were generational upgrades.
Some of the new test vehicles will utilize Toyota's dual cockpit control layout, debuted last year, allowing for experimentation in methods of transferring control to and from the human driver safely (Toyota calls this "Guardian" mode). Single cockpit vehicles, such as the one to be shown at CES, are used to test full vehicle automation (called "Chauffeur" mode). Technology between the two systems is largely the same with the exception of some software changes.
The new Platform 3.0 system and its test bed platform Lexus will be on display at CES in Las Vegas beginning January 9.
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