Self-driving cars have become a hot topic in the automotive world. Numerous companies are following in the footsteps of Google and Tesla to create an autonomous self-driving vehicle. And while many companies have been open about their quest to create a car that can operate alone, Toyota has been relatively discreet on the topic – until now.
Last year, Toyota invested one billion dollars in the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which would focus on automated driving and artificial intelligence. This week, TRI CEO Gill Pratt publicized a slightly more conservative approach to the autonomous car in what is being referred to as the “Guardian Angel” system. This semi-autonomous system would use artificial intelligence to assist, not replace, human drivers. The system would adjust the driver’s actions or automatically take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency. “In the same way that antilock braking and emergency braking work, there is a virtual driver that is trying to make sure you don’t have an accident by temporarily taking control from you,” said Pratt. Toyota believes combining both human and artificial intelligence will help minimize the millions of death that occur on the road every year.
Toyota’s semi-autonomous system may not be as exciting as a completely autonomous car, but it may be a more realistic answer to accident prevention for the current market. While self-driving cars may be a safe option in the future, they currently have a higher accident rate than cars driven by humans. Toyota’s system would also ease drivers into relinquishing vehicle control, allowing people to get used to artificial intelligence gradually.
Toyota does not aim to replace autonomous vehicles with their Guardian Angel system – it is simply a first step in a long process. John Leonard, an engineering professor and TRI researcher shared, “Perhaps one day we’ll get to the level of autonomy that Google talks about where you could go to sleep in your car or read a book. In the shorter term, there’s an opportunity to do systems that work with and augment the driver.” Toyota’s next step is building a new TRI institute in Ann Arbor, focusing on this futuristic endeavor.
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