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Toyota wants robots to do the driving for us

Rob Enderle | April 11, 2016
Toyota is not only looking to the future of cars, but to a future of robotic cars. Columnist Rob Enderle writes that Toyota is working on two models of autonomous vehicles so you can be safe when you are driving or when the computer is driving.

Series is an order-based system where the person gives the robot an order and it follows it.

Interleaved is shared control like between a pilot and co-pilot. In a car this would be a case where the car hands off control to the user when it is in trouble.

Parallel this is where both the human and the robot are working together all the time and the robot learns from the human over time until it can operate autonomously. Basically, this would be teaching a car to drive like you would teach a human. The example was of a quadriplegic operator connected to a robotic arm both with and without computer assist. Without computer assist it was largely unsuccessful while with computer assist it was successful every time and the user never noticed the difference and attributed the success to skill.  

This has resulted in two models. The “chauffer” model where you get in the car and it just drives you operating 100 percent of the time and the “guardian angel” model. This second model is in use today and provides different levels of intervention, today you see it in anti-lock brakes and accident avoidance systems. The first system can’t make a mistake, the second just can’t make anything worse (and generally makes them much better).  

Toyota believes both methods will co-exist, in fact they are driving this (the CEO got to the “why” later).

Uncanny Valley

One of the interesting examples he provided was of the DARPA Robotics challenge and the Uncanny Valley. Apparently, when the robots who were trying to operate mutinously failed the audience empathized with them. Some, almost in tears, were concerned the related injuries were serious. People connected with the not-so-human-looking robots and attributed living characteristics to them. This kind of suggests that when we have autonomous cars a lot of folks will likely treat them more like pets than cars (granted I think there are more than a few of us that do that with our cars today).  

Toyota priorities

The CEO of Toyota has a number of priorities. They included safety, environment and mobility for all (regardless of infirmity or age). This is directly from Akio Toyoda’s CEO, and he added one more, that the firm should also maintain the aspect of “fun to drive.” I think this last is very important because that is what may be lost with autonomous cars, we could lose the fun aspect of the experience (granted when I’m driving in local traffic I’ve pretty much lost the “fun” part anyway).

Toyota produces 10 million cars per year, each car lasts around 10 years, so there are around 100 million Toyota cars in service. In total, Toyota cars drive over a trillion miles per year and a small problem could have a massive impact of safety and liability. This raises the stakes significantly for autonomous cars.


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