TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Toyota wants its technology to make humans better drivers before fully autonomous vehicles take over — but it wants to avoid coming off as an overbearing driving instructor.
Recent breakthroughs are making things easier for drivers, said Ryan Eustice, vice president of autonomous driving at Toyota Research Institute, in an interview Monday on the sidelines of the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. Artificial intelligence allows the car’s controls to intervene before an accident, and data gathered via sensors can help drivers make more informed decisions.
The challenge lies in presenting the technologies to drivers without overwhelming them.
“The goal is to inform, warn and intervene,” Eustice said. “We need to figure out how to do that in a way without all the bells and whistles that immediately annoy the person so they turn the system off.”
Toyota’s driver assistance technology, known as Guardian, is intended to operate in the background, intervening only when a dangerous situation is imminent. Eustice refers to the technology as “level-setting,” taking over the job when human drivers aren’t at their best.
“If you look at a person and their ability to drive through time, it kind of ebbs and flows,” Eustice said. “Whether you’re attentive or distracted or drowsy, your driving performance will decrease in time.”
The safety of semiautonomous driving systems has been a point of contention for manufacturers. After the 2016 fatal accident in which a Tesla owner crashed his Model S while Autopilot was engaged, manufacturers such as Ford Motor Co. and Waymo have said they will only develop fully self-driving vehicles.
Toyota’s approach seeks to avoid drivers relying too heavily on the system. Having the vehicle intervene can mitigate the effects of poor driving behavior, but taking action is a last resort, he said. New capabilities can improve driving behavior in the first place.
Blind-spot monitoring quickly communicates the presence and location of other vehicles to the driver, but sensors on vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems can collect information that would enhance a driver’s awareness of the surroundings.
“There’s a tremendous benefit in improving your driving performance as a human by conveying all the rich information around you,” Eustice said.
To do so without distracting or annoying the driver, the entire cockpit needs to be reimagined to present information in a way that’s intuitive and easy to understand, he said.
“I want my grandma to be able to get in the car and understand what Guardian is,” Eustice said. “That’s going to be a critical element to customer acceptance of this technology.”