TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. will step closer to autonomously driving cars next year when it begins to deploy a range of advanced active-safety systems across its mass-market lineup.
The new or re-engineered technologies, unveiled last week in Tokyo, encompass more sophisticated precrash braking packages, a better auto-parking feature, a next-generation auto-adjust headlamp and a vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication system.
Toyota will begin rolling out the technologies in early 2015, Chief Safety Technology Officer Moritaka Yoshida said.
Initial products, such as the auto-parking and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, will debut in Japan and later migrate to other markets, including the U.S. Others, including two precrash auto-braking packages, will be released in the U.S. as early as next year.
Toyota did not disclose pricing for the new systems, but the goal is to introduce affordable advanced safety technologies that can be deployed in mass-volume nameplates, Yoshida said.
Toyota is introducing the technologies in a push to burnish its safety credentials as automakers seek to differentiate themselves from rivals. The systems are also basic building-block technologies that will underpin future autonomous cars.
Yoshida said automakers have reached a point of diminishing returns from improvements in passive systems such as stronger body frames and seat belts. Faster gains will come from technologies that prevent crashes, he said.
“There is a limit to reducing the number of fatalities through passive safety,” he said. “We must also focus on active safety.”
The two precrash safety packages are central to Toyota’s plan.
A so-called Toyota Safety Sense C system will target compact cars, while a Toyota Safety Sense P fits midsize and high-end vehicles. In Japan, C will appear next spring, and P next summer.
By 2017, both will be deployed in most passenger-car models and trim levels in the U.S., Europe and Japan, Toyota said.
The systems will deliver better performance than top-tier active-safety systems currently deployed in such premium models as the Lexus LS, but at approximately the same cost, Yoshida promised. Costs are falling quickly, while performance improves, he added. Toyota expects to lower costs in part by deploying common parts across multiple high-volume vehicles.
‘Moving very fast’
“When it comes to improvement in this area, it is moving very fast,” Yoshida said.
Toyota did not disclose what nameplates would be first in line.
TSSC, the precrash system for small cars, can automatically stop a car traveling at 30 km/hr (19 mph) before impact, and it operates up to 50 mph. So at 50 mph, it can slow a car by 19 mph, dropping the speed at impact to 31 mph and thereby softening a crash.
This system also will come with a lane-departure alert function and an automatic high-beam feature. The latter uses a camera to detect oncoming cars and then automatically dims the headlights. TSSC uses laser radar and a single-lens camera.
TSSP, the precrash system for bigger vehicles, can stop a car going 25 mph before impact with another vehicle, or trim 25 mph off higher speeds before a crash. Unlike TSSC, it can detect pedestrians and avoid striking them at speeds up to 19 mph.
TSSP also uses a single-lens camera, tucked behind the rearview mirror. But it swaps in millimeter-wave radar, which is more effective than laser radar at longer ranges and in bad weather.
Toyota’s new auto-parking technology also launches next year. It builds on the company’s current Intelligence Clearance Sonar system, which is available only in the Lexus NX and the Japan-market Toyota Crown sedan, Alphard van and Harrier crossover. The new system will be deployed more widely.
The upcoming system enables self-parking in a wider range of difficult-to-park spaces. It also uses a new approach, called See-through View, that improves visibility of the vehicle’s blind spots.
Toyota’s existing Panoramic View Monitor gives an overhead view from outside the car. See-through View gives a view from the driver’s seat as if the vehicle itself were transparent, providing a more intuitive picture of potential hazards.
Toyota’s next-generation adaptive high-beam headlamp uses multiple independently controlled LEDs for more focused and nuanced illumination, without blinding oncoming drivers or pedestrians.
They can illuminate the gaps of oncoming vehicles and adjust automatically to different driving environs, such as urban settings or high-speed driving. The system distributes light based on the operation of the steering wheel.
Toyota’s current adaptive high-beam system uses two light sources per headlamp. The new one uses 11 LEDs on each side.
Finally, Toyota said it will be among the first carmakers to deploy vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems in its cars, also starting next year.
These technologies, while still in their infancy, are viewed as key components of autonomous cars.
For example, they allow vehicles to talk to stationary intelligent transportation system sensors at intersections, which warn of pedestrians and vehicles hidden by blind spots.
And by having one car’s computers share information such as acceleration and deceleration data with other vehicles, these systems allow for more efficient car tracking and, potentially, convoys of cars traveling at the same speed.
These technologies will deploy first in Japan, where the government and automotive industry have agreed on standardization of such items as the dedicated wireless bandwidth: 760 megahertz. A U.S. introduction date will depend on similar moves by U.S. regulators and carmakers, Toyota said.
To be sure, such vehicle-to-vehicle safety systems will have limited impact in the early years because they require other vehicles to be similarly equipped.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has backed vehicle-to-vehicle systems as the way forward in the U.S., and Toyota wants to be an early adopter.
“These kinds of safety technologies are effective only when in wide use,” Yoshida said. “So we are taking the first step.”