When the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) began operations last January, Toyota signaled the technology R&D focus of the new company by headquartering it in Silicon Valley, with a second office in Cambridge near MIT, and another in Ann Arbor near the University of Michigan. It may only have been in existence for a bit over a year, but the TRI has already developed a test vehicle to aid in the development of autonomous driving technologies.
The new vehicle follows on from the Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle (AASRV) that was unveiled in the lead up to CES 2013. That semi-autonomous vehicle was built around a Lexus LS and served as a test platform for driver assist rather than fully autonomous driving technologies.
The new second-gen vehicle, which is the first vehicle fully developed by TRI, is also based on a Lexus LS – the current model Lexus LS 600hL – but is intended for facilitating the development of fully autonomous driving capabilities, or Level 5 autonomy as classified by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and which TRI refers to as "Chauffer" systems.
However, Toyota says the platform will also be used for the development of "Guardian" systems, which comprise high-level driver assist technologies that continuously monitor the interior and exterior of the vehicle to alert the driver of potential hazards and assist in avoiding a crash if required.
The new platform features many similar technologies to its predecessor, such as LIDAR, radar and cameras, but these systems are noticeably more refined and more compact. Toyota says the second-gen test platform, which boasts a drive-by-wire interface, is plug-and-play, allowing components to be regularly updated. It also makes liberal use of machine vision and machine learning.
"Basically, it is a smart vehicle designed to get smarter over time," says TRI CEO Gill Pratt. "It will learn individual driver habits and abilities and will benefit from shared intelligence from other cars as data gathering, sharing and connectivity technologies advance. We believe Guardian can probably be deployed sooner and more widely than Chauffeur, providing high-level driver-assist features capable of helping mitigate collisions and save lives, sooner rather than later."
The 2.0 generation advanced safety research vehicle was revealed at TRI's Prius Challenge event in Sonoma, California last week.