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Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center

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author photo by Jean Halliday September 2011

Toyota's North American research and development arm told reporters here at its technical center that it is conducting 10 new research programs with six top universities and institutions aimed at improving auto, passenger and pedestrian safety.

Toyota's nine-month-old Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) will invest $50 million over the next five years on the programs and others it expects to announce in the next year.

Breaking with industry tradition, the Center plans to publish much of the research findings, sharing it with other automakers, federal agencies and academia.

"Everything related to safety comes directly to me," said Moritaka Yoshida, global chief safety technology officer and managing officer of parent Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan. He said at the event that the automaker is moving beyond its own internal research with this new approach. "Let me assure you these changes are real and fundamental."

While Toyota has conducted similar research over the decades with partners, most of the findings were closely guarded and proprietary, said Chuck Gulash, director of the CSRC and senior executive engineer at the Toyota Technical Center. "This model of sharing is unique and to a great extent unique to the industry," he said. "It represents a fundamental change for Toyota, moving away from a traditional focus on proprietary research towards more openly sharing innovations that benefit the automotive industry and society as a whole."

Toyota's CSRC also launched a new web site, www.toyota.com/csrc, with the latest information on the auto safety R&D programs in North America.

The automaker hosted some 30 journalists at an intense day-and-a-half seminar at its two tech centers here that included a live front crash test of an 8-day-old 2012 Camry. The automaker is making good on its commitment to give more responsibility for safety to its North American operations.

The new research programs will focus on four main population groups: children, newly licensed teens, seniors and pedestrians. The topics to be studied include collision mitigation, driver distraction, accident reconstruction and enhanced crash data analysis.

According to the U.S. Government's National Highway Traffic Safety

Administration, or NHTSA, motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for American children between the ages of 3 and 14 and vehicle crashes are the top reason for fatalities of teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19. Senior drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes if they are 75 and older.

Toyota kicked off a new, 18-month research programs 13 days ago with the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute to study the difference between seniors and younger people in the front and back seats of cars, their postures, body shape and seatbelt fit.

U of M's Dr. Jonathan Rupp said 180 subjects will be recruited in three age groups, with 35% of them obese to better reflect today's American population. Current crash dummies approved by Uncle Sam are based on population size specs from the 1970s and were built in the 1980s, he said. Rupp said the goal is to better understand senior occupant kinetics, injury patterns in crashes and better seat restraint guidelines.

Toyota's test dummies have more than 110 sensors, or up to 10 times more than what regulators require to help predict occupant injuries and develop safer vehicles. Each costs between $150,000 and $400,000.

Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute is working with Toyota on teen driving research. Scheduled to start next year, 90 teens will be followed from their learners' permit through the first six months of independent driving.

Toyota's Tina Brunetti Sayer, a principal engineer on the program, said a camera will be installed on the rear view mirror to film the teens and the road. The teens will relive their mistakes on film, which will help them learn faster to be safer drivers. Va. Tech will create a report card that will be e-mailed to parents.

Va. Tech research scientist Charlie Klauer said her earlier work on other teen driver studies found that 20% of drivers cause 80% of the crashes. Research also found that teens who have their own cars are involved in more accidents and engage in riskier behavior behind the wheel than those who share a family vehicle, she added.

Toyota will also work with Va. Tech on two other programs, each three-year investigations. One will examine the impact of brain fitness training for senior drivers; the other to evaluate Lane Departure Warning Systems and comparing the technology across various models and makes.

The Wow Factor

On its own, the automaker is looking well into the future by testing what it calls a "possible future autonomous vehicle." Translation: a driverless car.

Although Toyota didn't reveal many details, it did unveil the futuristic technology dubbed the Advanced Active Safety Research Test Vehicle. A high-tech whirly-gig mounted to the top of the Lexus LS 600h L hybrid, spins at 360 degrees and contains 64 lasers monitoring activity around the sedan. This technology could someday lead to a car that basically drives itself, since the person in charge needs only to input the destination data.

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Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center - Autotrader