DETROIT — First your Toyota will be your guardian. Then it will be your chauffeur.
Ryan Eustice, a newly hired autonomous driving guru at Toyota Motor Corp., says the company’s first truly self-driving cars will arrive in five to 10 years — in that manner and in that order.
The rollout is being handled through two programs established this year under the Japanese carmaker’s newly created, U.S.-based Toyota Research Institute Inc., a $1 billion effort charged with developing artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.
The first project, code-named Guardian, will develop next-generation driver-assist safety systems and is being led out of Toyota Research Institute’s laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. The second, project Chauffeur, aims to develop truly driverless cars out of the institute’s office in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Overseeing both are Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson, two University of Michigan professors tapped this year to lead the world’s biggest automaker into autonomous driving.
The target is a so-called Level 4 autonomous vehicle — a car capable of driving itself anywhere, anytime, under any weather scenario, while the human sits back, hands off.
Toyota’s first applications of Level 4 autonomous driving will be “geofenced,” said Eustice, who, with Olson, is co-director of Toyota’s autonomous driving program. That means the cars will be fully self-driving but in restricted areas such as interstate freeways.
“In reality, I don’t think anybody is going to launch a product and say on day one it will be Level 4 everywhere,” Eustice said in an August interview. “That is a monumental goal.”
Geofenced Level 4 Toyotas, however, are just five to 10 years away, he said.