As driverless car technology continues to develop, Toyota unveiled a 2013 Lexus model equipped with sensors and software that allow it to pilot itself. The revelation was brought to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to help promote what could be viable feature in coming years.
Toyota has teased the media with bits and pieces of a self driving system in the past year. Previously, Intelligent Transport System was shown on a track in Japan with the ability to sense the environment and communicate the surrounding cars. Being on a track, it was equipped with artificial roads, stop lights and dummy pedestrians to simulate the real world.
The Intelligent Transport System was promoted as a safety feature most effective at intersections where a majority of car accidents happen. Toyota expected to cut accidents in half if drivers utilized the system correctly. The company doesn’t necessarily want to take driving away from the driver, but instead help the driver by preventing accidents where possible.
Other companies are researching the safety implications of an automated driving extension. At the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, a system is being tested to warn drivers of impending crashes. The system would not be a self-driving car, but a driver’s aid warning them of dangerous situations and possibly predicting traffic for them.
In Toyota as well as most other systems, a wifi connection is required to “talk” to other cars and signals. Ideally, when this technology becomes more widespread the cars will let traffic around them know when they need to merge or make a turn. Drivers would no longer have to worry about whether they can make a yellow light because the car would have an accurate reading of the distance ahead.
While wifi is an important factor, the cars could operate independently using the onboard sensors. The cars have a radar that can “see” up to 230 feet. Color high definition cameras can read traffic lights and brake lights to adjust for speed and brake where necessary. If the car sense an incoming impact, it can close windows and brake to better protect the driver and passengers.
The goal with this technology from Toyota, Google and other competitors is to eliminate human error. Google’s self driving car has driven hundreds of thousands of miles and was involved in a single crash. The reason? A human driver rear-ended the self-driving car. Those are exactly the accidents auto makers are hoping to eliminate.