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Self-Driving Cars: Toyota Reveals Its Second-Generation Autonomous Test Vehicle

Continuing a march toward self-driving cars that began in 2005, the recently minted Toyota Research Institute (TRI) unwrapped its generation 2.0 advanced-safety research vehicle in early March. TRI chose the LS 600h L as the foundation for its advanced test vehicle. It’s the first autonomous testing platform developed entirely by TRI. The first-gen test car was built upon a Lexus LS, taking its bow at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2013.

Why the Lexus LS 600h L?

With all the possibilities at Toyota’s disposal, why the Lexus LS 600h L? Not only could it have tapped the Toyota Avalon or Camry, but there are other sedans in the Lexus stable. Why the hybrid version of the Lexus flagship? Simple: In terms of technology, the LS 600h L is already loaded with cameras and radar that provide data collection for a number of semi-autonomous systems and features. And it’s big, providing plenty of space for loads of extra research gear.

Right out of the box, it comes with blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, intuitive park assist, a high-end navigation system and an adaptive front lighting system. It’s also set up to include such options as a pre-collision system with driver-attention monitor, lane-keep assist, all-speed radar cruise control and collision avoidance. In other words, rolling out the showroom door, it’s highly adaptable to the complex autonomous systems TRI will be testing.

What’s It Packing?

Toyota calls the TRI test platform computationally rich. With an emphasis on a modular design, it has a plug-and-play modular layout capable of continually upgrading as technologies improve.

Backing up the cameras and advanced radar, the TRI test-Lexus also uses laser-based radar, or LIDAR, to keep track of what’s going on around it. TRI developers are relying less on high-def maps and more on what they call machine vision and machine learning in the car’s decision-making. It will also benefit from shared intelligence with other cars, as vehicle-to-vehicle technologies advance. Basically, this is a form of artificial intelligence they believe will make the test Lexus smarter over time.

Two Paths

Toyota is pushing development toward self-driving cars along two paths, both of which will evolve through testing in the TRI 2.0 Lexus.

  • Guardian is a next-generation driver-assist safety technology that will be introduced into Toyota/Lexus products as they are tested and perfected.
  • Chauffeur is the more ambitious project targeting an autonomous vehicle, or what the government and SAE classify as Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy. Level 4 is fully autonomous within defined areas, and Level 5 is fully autonomous anywhere, at anytime.

What it means to you: Toyota reportedly invested more than $1 billion in TRI, indicating a high level of seriousness about developing self-driving cars. Whether it succeeds or not, we can count on some significant safety advancements out of the program.

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