Forget self-driving cars—when it comes to autonomous vehicles, Toyota still wants humans to do most of the driving.
And unlike Tesla that seems to be obsessed with getting rid of humans on the driver’s seat, or General Motors that seems to create the most innovations in the area, Toyota has a more cautious approach when it comes to autonomous driving. In fact, it still thinks total autonomy is still too far out to dominate vehicles today or in the future.
“I need to make it perfectly clear, it’s a wonderful, wonderful goal,” Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, was once quoted saying at CES 2017. “But none of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving true Level 5 autonomy, we are not even close.”
“None of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving true Level 5 autonomy,” Prat explained. “It will take many years of machine learning and many more miles than anyone has logged of both simulated and real-world testing to achieve the perfection required.’”
Still, that’s not to say that Toyota isn’t taking steps toward autonomous technology. In fact, Toyota appears to have the most patents that are related to autonomous technology compared to other popular car makers. Still, no one knows how innovative and revolutionary they’re going to be.
The reason for the conservative outlook may not be just about being ready for the technology, either. Toyota is also looking into the possible litigation cases that may arise when this technology is used.
Case in point: accidents. Many accidents already occur even with drivers on the road. What more if you leave it to a technology that isn’t ready, yet?
Level 2 — for now
Right now, most car manufacturers seem to be on the edge of Level 4 autonomy or self-driving capability. But that doesn’t mean the technology’s ready.
For Toyota, the ‘safest’ and most realistic approach for now would be to give a Level 2 autonomy to cars. This allows computers to have partial control of steering, braking, and speed, but there’s still a human operator controlling it at all times.
However, when the technology is ready, then they can just skip Level 3 and go straight to Level 4. At this level, the car can decide on what to do on approved roadways and highways. Still, humans operate it in situations where the road is less predictable or harder to maneuver.
This can be summed up in a press article Toyota released in Bloomberg:
“Toyota’s self-driving vision isn’t really about getting rid of drivers. Rather, it’s about using autonomous and related technologies to make cars safer and more user-friendly, chockablock with features that help people stay productive while they remain, for the most part, behind the wheel.”
[President Akio] Toyoda, who competes regularly in road races and signs off on future vehicle designs only after personally testing them on a track, is betting that consumers’ love affair with the automobile is far from over.”