Toyota’s ‘Guardian’ Safety System Helps Drivers, Doesn’t Replace Them

Following a preview last week, the Toyota Research Institute has released new details about its Guardian driving technology.

While most companies are focusing on taking control away from drivers, effectively making them passengers and letting computers and sensors to all the work, Toyota’s Guardian system is different as the driver is expected to remain in control of the vehicle at all times. The system has only been designed to intervene if it anticipates a possible issue such as a collision.

As Toyota Research Institute CEO Dr. Gill Pratt explained, a test vehicle was involved in a three-car crash in California while operating in manual driving mode. As the company began downloading data from the crash, they began to wonder if the accident could have been avoided or mitigated by an automated safety system. The company believes it could, so they focused their efforts on improving safety.

As part of this year’s focus, engineers developed a “blended envelope control” which seeks to combine the best attributes of man and machine. As Toyota explained, the idea was drawn from fighter jets where pilots don’t directly control the plane. Instead, their inputs are fed into a flight control system that makes thousands of adjustments a second to stabilize the aircraft.

After looking into this, Toyota came up with the idea that there shouldn’t be a “discrete on-off switch between the human and the autonomy.” Instead, the company wants drivers and the Guardian system to work together as teammates to extract the best input from each.

Part of the company two-tier focus on automated driving is to save as many lives as possible. As Pratt noted, Toyota’s fully autonomous Chauffeur system is challenging to develop and public acceptance of autonomous vehicles will likely take “considerable time” to prevail as there will undoubtedly be crashes, injuries and deaths involving self-driving vehicles.

This means fully autonomous vehicles are still far from roaming the streets. According to Pratt, though, “in the meantime, we have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible.” And that’s why Toyota is developing the Guardian system so it can save lives well before full autonomy becomes commonplace.

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