The participation of Toyota sends a signal that automakers are taking autonomous vehicles seriously, experts say. "Having someone like Toyota, with that kind of industry pull, is a very important step," Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for AutoPacific Inc., told Design News. "Google is one thing. But having a big automaker exploring this is another." Sullivan added that he has seen and photographed Toyota's autonomous vehicles being tested near its research center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
A Lexus equipped with a 360-degree LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser on its roof can detect objects as far away as 70 meters.
(Source: Toyota Motor Corp.)
Up to now, the most notable driverless cars have come from outside the auto industry's original equipment market. In the Defense Department's 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, five cars developed by research teams independently traversed a 140-mile course, including mountain roads and hairpin turns. In the 2007 Urban Challenge, six more vehicles finished successfully. Google's autonomous cars are also said to have logged more than a quarter-million driverless miles.
Still, technical challenges remain if driverless cars are ever to become products. Designers of driverless vehicles have previously told Design News that GPS systems don't update quickly enough, and must be augmented by supporting technologies, such as inertial sensors. Driverless cars are also still "learning" to determine what's in front of them, and whether it's time to stop or go.
Sullivan said that the challenges will have to be addressed over many years. "The big thing will be getting consumers to trust this technology," he told us. "A lot of them still have issues with their phones and computers, so how can we expect them to trust an autonomous car?"