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Toyota Research Chief Lays Out How Autonomous Cars Will Save 1.2 Million Lives Annually

7 April 2016, 4:53 pm EDT By Mark Lelinwalla Tech Times
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That's the amount of car accident casualties that are recorded in the U.S. annually, and TRI CEO Dr. Gill Pratt thinks those lives can be saved by self-driving vehicles.  ( David Becker | Getty Images News )

Toyota has already been actively developing autonomous driving technology.

Within that, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) announced Thursday that it's forming a 50-person research lab in Ann Arbor, Mich. to further fuel ways to produce autonomous vehicles.

TRI CEO Dr. Gill Pratt said the autonomous vehicles could help to save the 1.2 million people killed annually in car accidents.

"We want constructive coopetition here," Pratt said during a keynote speech in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday, as reported by VentureBeat.com. "The fact that we tolerate 1.2 million people killed per year is astounding, and it's a shame. It far exceeds the number of people killed in war."

That's why part of TRI's approach is having its researchers in locations such as Cambridge, Mass., Palo Alto, Calif., Japan and now Ann Arbor, Mich. collaborate.

"Because 1.2 million people per year demand nothing less," Pratt said of Toyota's thorough development of autonomous technology. "The future is incredibly bright for all of us working on this."

As part of his keynote speech, Pratt rattled off three ways to make self-driving cars safer, including immediately sensing an emergency and when a human has to take the wheel. Within that, there could also be a built-in 30-second warning for when a driver needs to taker over. Then, there's a fully-autonomous vehicle, which would be equipped to handle any and every emergency without any human interjection.

He also discussed a parallel self-driving system, in which human drivers would essentially teach a car how to drive, paving the way for the vehicle to drive itself if and when the driver has a need for it. Pratt called that the "guardian angel" approach.

"The parallel autonomy has tremendous promise, and techniques like deep learning can be brought to bear on this problem," he said.

(Photo : David Becker | Getty Images News)

Part of the challenge in working toward saving those 1.2 million lives is continuously working to get chips used in autonomous vehicles to be as efficient as possible.

"The human brain can drive a car on very little power, but the computer requires a lot of power," he said. "We are doing machine learning that can take a minimal amount of power."

During the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 in Las Vegas this past January, Pratt told us that, despite 2020 being targeted by automakers as the year self-driving cars will impact roads, he's skeptical about fully-autonomous vehicles being ready by that time.

"I am skeptical that we will be done with both in four years," Pratt said at the time. "That's a very short time and we have a long way to go [with the full development of autonomous cars]. And again, just because we are 90, 95 percent of the way there doesn't mean if you've been climbing a mountain and you've been walking through the foothills — and that's 95 percent of the miles you have to go — that the last five percent when you have to climb up to the peak ... that's the hard part. It's going to take us a lot longer to get up the rest of the way of the peak than it has been the easy part."

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