On the winding course at the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center, Editor-in-Chief Teruyuki Kagawa experienced what he termed “skilled” automated driving. The driving was smooth enough that he could relax and surrender himself as a passenger to the vehicle as it precisely reproduced the driving of Hisashi Yabuki, the test driver. It was driving that, in the end, appealed to sensitivity, and allowed him to even feel like it was ‘fun’.
But this automated driving research isn’t just that. What Kagawa saw next was another step further forward. Informed that there was another car he should take a ride in, he was led to a blindingly bright yellow Lexus LC.>
Getting inside, accompanied by Masahiko Tanigawa from the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Development Division, they headed to a circular test course covered in water. Heading onto the course, a skid pad, Tanigawa immediately switched the car to automated driving mode.
Drifting Isn’t a Game
“Okay, we’re going to drift,” Tanigawa told him as the rear wheels began sliding. All Kagawa could do was be stunned, gasping “We’re drifting! We’re drifting!” The car’s drift was controlled with impressive accelerator control, the steering wheel spinning on its own. All the driver was doing was just sitting there.
This is definitely amazing. Great fun. However, is this a technology needed for automated driving? After exiting the vehicle, Kagawa and Soga had the following back and forth.
Is drifting really needed for automated driving?
Cars are operated and used in all sorts of environments. Unfortunately, a car might start sliding sideways or be unstable. At times like this, the [automated driving] driver can keep the car going in the desired direction while ensuring safety.
So it’s for safety’s sake.
I imagine Gill [Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO] would have mentioned the word “Guardian” when you visited TRI [Toyota Research Institute]. […] Even when a car is drifting, this [automated driving] driver will protect you—so if you think of it in that sense, this isn’t a game….
It sure felt like it was a game.
I was like “this is a great thing to do on my summer holiday!”
The water spraying up like that, whoosh! [Laughs]
Eiji Kawanishi of the Advanced Chassis Development Division noted that, “Actually, we’re very pleased you seemed to feel we were just having a game.” This was because they were able to control the car smoothly enough for passengers to relax and have fun.
“Ever-Better Cars” for the Era of Automated Driving
“There’s another car I want you to try out,” Soga told him. Kagawa was then handed something that looked for all the world like a video game controller. Once the car was in automated driving mode, Kagawa, sitting in the passenger seat, promptly started trying to control the car. He could make it freely change course and speed. It felt just like playing a game—but what purpose could research like this serve?
“One of our goals for this automated driving is the idea of ‘Mobility for All’,” Kawanishi explained. By reducing the effort of driving as much as possible using automated driving as a base, we can bring about mobility where anyone can safely drive without pushing themselves. This is the idea behind this research.
“I’ve got two daughters, but, unfortunately, neither of them drives,” Soga said. The reason, he explained, is because what they gain (mobility) from driving is largely the same as they get from trains, but with much more risk. We live in an era when even the children of someone like Soga, who’s been developing cars at Toyota for 30 years, think like this.
So, when Toyota thought about what sort of cars people like Soga or his daughters would buy, it came up with a vision of safe, reliable cars that people could control through simple operations.
Kagawa incorporated both his experience with the Guardian system, which allows automated driving to help protect the driver that he experienced at TRI in Silicon Valley, and his most recent experience. “It really was a curious feeling,” noting how his own will was reflected while the car was still driving automatically.
There's new fun that wasn’t there before, Soga had . If vehicles like this become common, even people who aren’t interested in cars could develop an interest in them. Moreover, Soga added, “People who wouldn’t drive a car will be now able to. We have a vague idea that this is what ‘ever-better cars’ means in the age of automated driving.”
Cars Really Do Have an Amazing “Fun” Factor
In the previous report, Kagawa experienced automated driving at TRI in Silicon Valley, a place where the world’s leading technology companies are headquartered. This time, at the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center, he tried out a further refinement of automated driving that measured its control performance based on human driver’s abilities. He felt like because of that, automated driving vehicles can have a personality, despite not having a human at the wheel.
If you see an empty car sitting there, you would normally think that it is just a car that was parked. Seeing this one and hearing its engine still running, I feel like saying, “Oh, hi there. Sorry to have left you, partner.”
It’s as if the car goes to sleep once the engine’s turned off. I got the impression that it’s actually automated driving cars that people will see more strongly as their “beloved car.”
Kagawa loves cars, so he was resistant to the idea of machine-like automated driving. But through his visits to TRI and the Higashi-Fuji Technical Center, he is starting to change his mind.
I was surprised at what I learned about automated driving. I am looking forward to what the concept of “Fun to Drive” will bring in the future.
Automated driving might just be a thing!