Toyota's "Guardian Angel" System Is Its First Step Toward Self-Driving Cars

Now that the Tesla Model 3 launch hype has died down, we can get back to the other hot subject of the moment, which are the autonomous cars. We've lost count of all the companies that are currently working towards creating a fully-robotic vehicle, but there's a lot of them. And Toyota has just jumped on the bandwagon.
Toyota driving simulator 1 photo
Photo: Toyota
The Japanese carmaker is the biggest of them all, and yet it remained a discreet presence as far as autonomous driving is concerned. But just like the electric vehicles, this technology too isn't something any car company out there can afford to dismiss as nothing more than a trend and wait until it goes away. And that's mostly because it won't.

So last year, Toyota invested one billion U.S. dollars in a new subsidiary called Toyota Research Institute (TRI) destined to focus on developing automated driving, artificial intelligence, and robotics. After a quiet accommodation time, TRI is now ready to talk about its plans. Toyota thinks it's better that drivers are eased into this whole autonomous vehicles thing, and so it has come up with what it calls the "guardian angel" system.

It was at least four years ago that I first experienced the sensation of charging down towards an obstacle, only for the car to brake and veer left on its own. It was happening at an impressive testing complex owned by German company Bosch. The system was fully functional and definitely did a better job than I would have - and by that I mean that it went left just as much as it was needed to avoid the collision, and not one inch more.

Four (or maybe more) years later, Toyota is presenting a similar system it says will temporarily take control out of the driver's hands. Think of automatic braking, but with a twist - a twist of the steering wheel, that is. “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 Gill Pratt, CEO of TRI, during a speech in San Jose.

I fail to see how, in the event of a crash, this would be treated any differently than a fully autonomous vehicle: as long as the system intervened, the driver can deny any responsibility, claiming he would have been able to avoid the incident hadn't the "guardian angel" stuck its tail in. But Toyota is adamant about this being the future, so it plans to build a new facility near the University of Michigan that will continue to research topics like self-driving and robotics.

Toyota is also lagging behind on autonomous miles tested on the road, but it has a plan for that, too. According to MIT Technology Review, Gill Pratt thinks that autonomous Toyota vehicles will need to cover a trillion miles worth of testing before being ready for real road action, and he believes that a lot of that can be done virtually, using advanced simulators.

We've seen what happens when big, traditional carmakers don't adjust quickly enough to the changing times: they start to lose ground, and then they come up with patch solutions. Toyota, on the other hand, isn't the kind of brand that takes risks, so I'd say that it's working really hard on the autonomous battlefront, it just doesn't make much fuss about it. And when the legislation allows it, it'll have everything ready. On the other hand, I've been wrong before.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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