Seigo Kuzumaki, deputy chief safety technology officer of Toyota, says that the company envisions the future as a time when human drivers and computers could work hand in hand to achieve a safer driving environment as opposed to allowing only one to have greater control than the other behind the wheels. While it is true that other companies, such as Google, are focusing on driverless car technology, Kuzumaki and other executives are not totally convinced on the concept's market appeal. Even if it gains a wider acceptance among drivers, there is uncertainty on just how prepared the technology is to meet the demands.
Toyota's direction is definitely not something that is geared towards creating its own driverless vehicle. The company believes that in order to make vehicles safer, it must be equipped with automated technology. The latter would mean that cars should be armed with sensors, radars, and cameras which could help in surveying the surroundings.
Moreover, cars should apply corrective braking or steering that could spare them from getting into dangerous collisions.
"At this point, it is difficult to realize driverless car safely ," said Ken Koibuchi, head of Toyota's intelligent vehicle division. "To realize driverless car at this moment, we need a very rich infrastructure."
Toyota is currently involved in thirty-four various projects with seventeen partners wherein some are studying the mechanism known as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. For now, the company believes in the possibility of collaborative driving between human drivers and computers.
Vice president Kristen Tabar at Toyota's Technical Center says that humans and computers both have weaknesses. With this in mind, they can compensate for the other but not up to the point where one becomes obsolete.
"The human being is the ultimate in sensor fusion," said Tabar. "We have the visual, audible advantage, all the different inputs to make the best judgments moving forward."
Tabar adds that the automation of vehicles will be a gradual process. The company may start with building a system that automatically brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian or prevent a collision. The next step could be having the mechanism to take over the driving duties when the vehicle is on an open freeway or stuck in traffic.
Along with perfecting the system in driving the car, the company is also looking into enhancing the system that would monitor the driver and confirm that he's engaged in his driving. There is also the concept of making the drivers realize ahead of time on the need to regain control on his driving.
Toyota plans to introduce the next generation of vehicles with the driver-assist technology next year. It will most likely be seen on an the next model of Lexus.