Toyota follows General Motors, Google in pursuing self-driving cars for safety

A monitor displays the status of the Lane

A monitor displays the status of the Lane Trace Control (LTC) technology in a Toyota Motor Corp. Lexus vehicle, equipped with the Automated Highway Driving Assist (AHDA) support system in Tokyo, Japan. (Oct. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg

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Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, will introduce systems in about two years enabling cars to communicate with each other to avoid collision.

The system will use radio waves to gather data on the speed of other vehicles to keep a safe distance, the Toyota City, Japan-based company said in a statement. It showed another system, consisting of cameras, radar and control software, that helps a car maintain position in a lane on its own.

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Self-driving systems may be the next big trend for automakers. General Motors Co.’s autonomous vehicles, due out by 2020, are expected to drive themselves on controlled-access highways such as an interstate and Nissan Motor Co. last month said it would test a Leaf model car with an advanced driver assist system on Japanese roads. Separately, Google Inc. is developing technology for self-driving cars.

Toyota’s research for developing automated driving systems is focused on reducing traffic fatalities, Moritaka Yoshida, managing officer and chief safety technology officer, said yesterday. With the real-time speed information shared via wireless communication, cars can eliminate unnecessary acceleration and deceleration which in turn can reduce traffic congestion and boost fuel efficiency, he said.

The system Toyota has developed incorporates technologies derived from its automated driving research and the carmaker has said it aims to create a virtual “co-pilot” in vehicles that helps drivers avert accidents.

Sales of driver assistance systems is estimated by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants to double to $5.4 billion in the five years through 2017.

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Traffic Fatalities

Each day, an estimated 3,400 people are killed globally in road traffic crashes, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Current trends show that by 2030, road traffic injuries will become the fifth leading cause of death globally.”

Toyota also showcased a new pre-crash technology that can steer a vehicle moving at a high speed away from pedestrians when automatic braking alone can’t avoid a collision. This new system will be available after 2015, the company said.

More than 4,000 pedestrians were killed in U.S. traffic crashes in 2011, the most recent year available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Japan, pedestrian deaths are about a third of traffic fatalities.

First Step

“Currently, no product is launched in the market with these technologies and almost every global automaker is now researching and developing,” said Takashi Morimoto, a consultant at Frost & Sullivan in Tokyo. “These would be the first steps toward autonomous driving technology.”

Toyota and other Japanese carmakers have agreed to use a common frequency for vehicle communication in Japan so that they can share real-time information with cars from other manufacturers. Foreign carmakers may also use the same frequency in Japan, Yoshida said.

Toyota will initially introduce the system in some cars from around 2015 and then offer it in other models gradually, according to Masato Suzumura, a project manager of the advanced vehicle control system development division.

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“The new features are enriching what they already have on some models to make driving safer and less stressful,” said Satoshi Nagashima, Tokyo-based senior partner at Roland Berger. “The demand will be big for such advanced technologies.”

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