Toyota Unveils the First Two Vehicles That Will Offer its "Advanced Drive" Human-Centric Autonomous Driving System

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【Summary】​While electric automaker Tesla focuses on the rollout of its “Full Self-Driving'' feature that is intended to operate without human intervention, Japan's Toyota Motor Corp is taking a different approach to self-driving vehicles. Toyota has developed an AI-powered autonomous driving system called “Advanced Drive” that allows the driver and vehicle to communicate with each other, handing off control of the vehicle seamlessly between driver and vehicle as needed.

Eric Walz    May 16, 2021 8:00 AM PT
Toyota Unveils the First Two Vehicles That Will Offer its

While electric automaker Tesla focuses on the rollout of its "Full Self-Driving'' feature that is intended to operate without human intervention, Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. is taking a different approach to self-driving vehicles. 

Toyota has developed an AI-powered autonomous driving system called "Advanced Drive" that allows the driver and vehicle to communicate with each other, handing off control of the vehicle seamlessly between driver and vehicle as needed.

Rather than let the vehicle handle all of the autonomous driving tasks, Advanced Drive allows for communication between the driver and vehicle at all times while operating in autonomous mode.

Toyota refers to its as a "Mobility Teamwork Concept."

Drivers can interact with the autonomous system via a well designed HMI that provides seamless communication between the driver and vehicle, according to Toyota. The goal of the technology is to keep a human driver in the loop and connected to the vehicle, even as technologies advance to high levels of automation. 

Toyota unveiled two new models on Thursday that will be the first to offer the advanced autonomous driving features. The new Lexus LS and the new Toyota Mirai lineups include versions equipped with Advanced Drive.

At a press briefing, Toyota said it's being reborn as a mobility company that can enrich people's lives. Part of that mission is to reduce fatalities caused by traffic accidents by developing state-of-the-art safety autonomous technology for its model lineup.

Toyota's Advanced Drive is the third generation of the automaker's advanced safety technology that began with the introduction of "Toyota Safety Sense" in 2015 on select Lexus models. The second generation of the technology, Lexus Safety Systems +A, was introduced for 2018 models. This was followed by the development of the third generation Advanced Drive, which Toyota refers to as the "Mobility Teammate Concept."

"We are still a long way off from realizing true safety," said Toyota's Chief Technology Officer, Masahiko Maeda, during the company's press briefing. "That is why Toyota's unique concept of safety and autonomous driving technology is the "Mobility Teammate Concept", in which people in cars watch over each other, help each other, and drive like companions."

Rather than an autonomous driving system that takes over complete control of the vehicle, Toyota's Teammate Concept is based on the idea that when the driver wants to enjoy driving the vehicle the autonomous driving system takes a backseat to watch over safety, acting as a guardian for the vehicle's safe operation

If the driver wants to hand back control of the driving to the system for any reason, they can do so with the piece of mind that the handoff is seamless and entirely safe. Toyota compares this approach to the driver and the system "respecting each other as partners" for the driving tasks.

"We want to turn the car into a companion," said Maeda. "Even in the era of autonomous driving."

The whole concept revolves around the relationship between people and machines, Maeda explained. But it also allows the human driver and autonomous system to work together. 

Toyota calls it "automation with a human touch." However in this case, the human driver can be tapped to handle any driving tasks where the autonomous system might need human assistance. 

For developers of self-driving vehicles, the ultimate goal is to create an autonomous system that can perform as well as a human driver in all conditions, which has not been achieved yet.  

Toyota's Teammate Concept works to bridge this gap until vehicles in the future can operate without any human intervention. But even as autonomous driving advanceds to higher levels, Toyota aims to keep the human at the center of driving, rather than passively allow the vehicle alone to control itself.

Toyota's Chief Digital Officer James Kuffner, provided an overview of the automaker's Advanced Drive at a media briefing announcing the rollout of the technology.

Suppose a Toyota vehicle is traveling on the highway. Once the system determines that it's ready to take over the driving tasks, the driver will receive a prompt on the instrument cluster. But before this happens the autonomous system analyzes data from the vehicle's cameras and other sensors such as radar and lidar to confirm that its safe to take control.

At this point the driver can press a button on the steering wheel to confirm the handoff of control. Once this is done, the steering, braking and acceleration are all fully automated. As soon as the handoff happens, the vehicle is able to control its speed to match the current road conditions.

If another vehicle ahead is traveling at a slower speed, the system suggests a lane change to pass the slower vehicle. However, the lane change won't be executed until the driver confirms it by using the turn signal. Once the driver confirms the lane change, the autonomous system determines it's safe by scanning the entire 360 degree space around the vehicle using an advanced suite of sensors.

Toyota stresses that its Advanced Drive is not a fully-autonomous system, although it behaves like one. Kuffner explained that the automated features such as steering and braking are for the driver's comfort and convenience, which makes sense given that the entire system is built around cooperation between the vehicle and driver.

Additional features of Advanced Drive include automatically adjusting the vehicle's speed based on the curvature of the road, The system can also maneuver through lane splits, such as highway merges or exit lanes.

The system is even intelligent enough to identify large trucks. If a large truck is in an adjacent lane, the systems automatically adjust its lane position to create more space between the two vehicles. Another feature is adjusting the vehicle's speed automatically to allow other vehicles merging traffic to enter a roadway more safely.

The driver and car confirm each other's readiness by engaging in a dialogue, leading to safe driving and comfortable mobility, according to Toyota. 

Key Components of Advanced Drive

At the heart of Advanced Drive is a powerful AI-powered processor using deep-learning, which Toyota says makes its Advance Drive vehicles "supercomputers on wheels."  With AI and deep-learning at its core, The system is able to predict and respond to many different traffic situations. The AI technology is incorporated to monitor every driving situation and immediately provide assistance to drivers when needed.

The system is backed by state-of-the-art perception systems and a high level of redundancy to prevent any single system failure from interfering with the autonomous driving operations. The perception system uses a 360 degree surround multi-modal sensor suite that includes radar, lidar and cameras that monitors the environment at all times.

All of the sensor data is fused together to create one of the most advanced perception systems for autonomous vehicles.

In the event that a driver is not paying attention, Advanced Drive uses a driver monitor camera to detect which way they are looking and even whether the eyes are opened or closed. If the system determines that the driver is looking to the other side or has his/her eyes closed, a warning is issued.

Additionally, if the system detects signs of sleepiness or distractions, a buzzer issues a warning, the seat belt vibrates, the heads-up display flashes, and a care guide app speaks to the driver, urging them to pay attention.

If there is no response from the driver, the vehicle will decelerate, activate the hazard lights and bring the vehicle to a stop in the lane or on the shoulder. After the vehicle is stopped, the system unlocks the doors and requests assistance by automatically contacting first responders.

The entire Advanced Drive system is fully upgradable via OTA software updates, so Toyota and Lexus vehicles will always have the latest and most advanced version. Toyota says the system will get better over time. Toyota said its will collect and analyze data from its vehicles in Japan for future development.

The Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai are the first vehicles from the automaker that are fully upgradable via OTA software updates. Even the hardware used by Advanced Drive is upgradeable. Kuffner said the fully-upgradeable vehicles will provide a lifetime of value for Toyota customers.

"This is really the first step of bringing customer-first, and software-first as a new value. We were able to listen and respond to customer needs and bring to market new functions more rapidly," said Kuffner.  "This is really the first step on our new journey towards software first development." 

As its name implies, by using a software first development approach Toyota is designing the software first then matching it with the hardware that can run it.

The new LS that offers Advanced Drive was launched in Japan on April 8 and the new Mirai will be launched in Japan on April 12.

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