Toyota wants to have self-driving cars on the road within five years.
The company recently took its autonomous car—dubbed Highway Teammate—on Tokyo’s Shuto Expressway for a test drive. The Lexus vehicle was able to merge onto and exit highways, maintain and change lanes, and maintain inter-vehicle distances, all without human interaction.
The move comes after Toyota last year said rather pointedly that “Toyota will not be developing a driverless car.” Instead, the company’s deputy chief safety technology officer Seigo Kuzumaki said at the time that Toyota would focus on driver-assist technologies.
Self-driving car efforts from rival car makers and tech companies perhaps changed its mind. As seen in a video demo (below), Highway Teammate, a modified Lexus GS, can navigate a busy highway on its own.
According to the New York Times, Highway Teammate cannot yet handle roads with pedestrians and bicylists and is still restricted to major roads. It’s also not very fast; about 37 mph.
According to Toyota, a driver would switch to an automated driving mode once they passed through a toll gate and entered a highway on-ramp. Using road-map data, Highway Teammate then pinpoints its location and “operates the steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes to achieve the appropriate speed and driving lines in much the same way as a person would drive.”
If all goes well, Toyota will launch products based on Highway Teammate by around 2020.
Just last month, the company announced an initiative to spend approximately $50 million to fund joint car safety research with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is part of a broader effort by Toyota to develop technology that improves passenger and vehicle safety.
The self-driving car has become the latest technology of interest in the car industry. Companies ranging from Google to Mercedes-Benz to Honda are all examining ways to bring self-driving cars to the market. The idea is to provide an experience for drivers in which an onboard computer, utilizing sensors, lasers, and other detection technololgies, handle all the driving. So far, the track record of self-driving cars has been strong, but testing has largely been done in controlled environments.