What Everyone Thinks about Automated Driving (Part Two)

FROM THE EDITOR 2019.11.19


Even veteran drivers need to pay careful attention on the Metropolitan Expressway. Yet, even on a road as difficult as this, a Toyota test vehicle was able to drive smoothly in the middle of traffic. What made this possible? Toyota Times Editor-in-Chief, Teruyuki Kagawa, was on site at TRI-AD in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, to find out.

Toyota Production System in the Era of Automated Driving

“People enjoy driving, but, on the other hand, watching what the automated system can do makes us realize that driving is much more than just fun,” Kagawa commented, reflecting on his test ride.

“The purpose of developing our automated driving technology is to help keep our customers safe,” explained Tomoya Kawasaki, Director of Automated Driving Development. The key word here is “safety.” “Do you think it will be possible to prevent car accidents and offer this kind of safety to the world?” Kagawa asked, pressing for an answer. Kawasaki replied, “I definitely hope we can have Toyota vehicles that do not cause accidents.”

Next, Kagawa spoke with Dr. James Kuffner, the CEO of TRI-AD, who discussed the reliability required of automated driving.

Dr. Kuffner

I think creating automated driving and advanced safety technology is like the moon shot of our generation. The reality is that it is very difficult to make an automated driving system that is reliable and safe. It requires great hardware and great software, together.

Toyota created the most reliable, efficient means of producing hardware: the Toyota Production System. At TRI-AD, we are trying to create the equivalent of the Toyota Production System for software.

In order to realize this technology, we need to create a good environment, with good training, and assemble great people. If you don’t mind, I’d like you to experience our office with new mobility.

Kagawa Finally Sees where Development Occurs

Dr. Kuffner then showed Kagawa around the office, using the mysterious mobility devices lined up at the entrance.

“Wow, I want this!” Kagawa enthused. “This is great. It’s about 100 times more fun than bamboo stilts!”

The first place they visited was the Geo Application team, the team that develops maps. Shuichi Yokokawa of Geo Application, Automated Driving Development, showed Kagawa actual map data. The systems that collect data for use by this map have accurately recorded everything about the road, from the white lines to the location of signs, and even the road’s changes of elevation in 3D. This sort of map data covers all of Japan and the United States, for a total length of about 330,000 km.

The next stop is the Lane Keeping team. Masaki Kitago of Lane Keeping, Automated Driving Development, explained that the addition of maps to camera recognition helps Toyota achieve smoother driving capable of seeing what’s on the road ahead. The test vehicle that Kagawa experienced was able to smoothly pass other vehicles along the narrow, twisting Metropolitan Expressway thanks to this combination of cameras and maps.


In the future, vehicles will use the map features to continue to stay safely on the road without straying.


It can see what is ahead, like if there is a bad road. Maybe it can also teach me what is ahead in my future and how to keep focused on the main things in life…

Next, his visit took him to the Lane Planning team, the department researching the lane changes that are vital in order to get to a destination. Kentaro Matsumoto of Lane Planning, Automated Driving Development, explained their work thus: “We are always thinking about how to make the system choose the safer route to the destination.”


The human brain is very intelligent; it takes in lots of information while driving. So, it is not easy to make the technology do the same things that humans can do. On the other hand, if we can get the technology to do it, it will do so consistently, without getting tired. The great thing about machines is that they can keep doing what they’re doing. That’s what’s good. But what about the things that the technology still can’t do yet? We look at both the strengths and weaknesses, and we want to make the system better.

Kagawa then followed Dr. Kuffner to a room with a simulator. “Developers can develop the system in a place that will make it feel more realistic,” Masayuki Kato from Testing explained.

Dr. Kuffner

It’s not enough just to make the technology for the car; we have to test the usability. The simulation allows us to test a situation that is too dangerous to test on the public road. In order to achieve the dream of zero accidents, we have to test it many, many times.


The president keeps saying it is so important to prevent car accidents. Do you think that preventing car accidents is a future possibility?

In response to this question from Kagawa, Thor Lewis, Vice President of User Experience, was emphatic: “Absolutely. If he says it, I believe it.”

Provide Options through Automated Driving

Dr. Kuffner explained that creating options in automated driving is important.

Dr. Kuffner

The dream is, of course, to have zero accidents. It will take a long time, I will be honest, but bringing people together with the commitment of a company like Toyota makes me feel optimistic that we can achieve the goal.


So, I take it that you see overlapping traits with automated driving and “Fun to Drive,” right?

Dr. Kuffner

I love driving, but I don’t like commuting. Many people feel the same way. So, we will create options. I think it is about providing technology for choices, for supporting people’s lives.


So “fun” comes where you have choices. That is what makes it fun, right?

Koibuchi expressed that he felt there may be a range of “beloved cars.”


I once talked to our president and he said, “different people love different cars.” Some people like high performance cars with quick response and naturally they want a car they can drive around the race track; others out there don’t have a lot of confidence to drive, and those people would like a car like an automated vehicle to help protect them and it could give them the confidence to feel safe to drive again. So there are different types of cars that people love.


A long time ago, when I was horseback riding, I rode a horse that had been ridden and fine-tuned by a skilled horseback rider, and boy, that horse was extremely obedient.

I was riding these horses and it really surprised me, even though I was not good at riding horseback, it felt like I was.


We think of these cars like our cherished horses. For example, if a person is trying to compel the animal to jump off a cliff, a horse that is cherished by that owner wouldn’t do it.


I see. So, if you think like that, automated vehicles seem the same as if you are riding on a horse.


As far as safety goes, a horse follows what we tell it but only when the horse knows it’s safe. But when a person is in danger, a horse will protect them and itself.


And that is probably the answer to automated vehicles, strange as it may seem.

“People” are at the Heart

A few days after visiting TRI-AD, Kagawa was at the Tokyo Motor Show. On the presentation stage, President Akio Toyoda described his passionate vision for a mobility society with the focus on people, saying “Toyota believes in the power of people.”


That [automated driving system you experienced at TRI-AD] was still at the “beginner” level. Beginning drivers drive very carefully at first. But, automated driving systems, even at the beginner level, can go beyond normal human limitations to protect the car. That’s what we’re trying for.”


I completely understand.


Toyota isn’t just some company making only one prototype—having made over a million cars, people trust us for our safety.


Your team used the word “product.” This has to become a product at some point then, right?


I think so. Let me put it this way: people will be the ones using automated vehicles, and it is people who think cars are “fun to drive.” So that’s why our focus is on people.

Automated Driving and “Fun to Drive” are on the Same Level

After completing his reporting on automated driving, Kagawa shared his thoughts with his team.


I have tried out automated vehicles on three separate occasions and in three locations: in Silicon Valley, Higashi-Fuji, and Nihonbashi, Tokyo (on the Metropolitan Expressway). At each location and during each meeting it was mentioned without hesitation that all three places were “pursuing the ideal automated vehicle for the comfort and safety of people.” I don’t know how many times I asked them if they were really pursuing these things. Each time, they said yes and that they were working on it. They are pursuing automated driving for the comfort and safety of their customers, and for better cars.

Simply, for each person, it is not about making life easier, but certainly striving to prevent car accidents caused by Toyota vehicles with comfort and safety. This is the wish of every employee, without one person being left behind. I checked and this was the one big thing [they all had in common].

I had thought that what makes an automated vehicle “Fun to Drive” was left out. But, no, it is about sharing automated driving functions with people. Making vehicles “Fun to Drive,” comfortable, safe, and automated driving…I think they all line up as the same truth.

I was really caught off guard here. I knew I would be surprised, but wow…I knew I would but…really, what automobiles can do surprised even me.


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