Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has largely kept quiet on its self-driving car program. The Japanese company has released some information about its test vehicles and the types of sensors it’s using, but we’ve seen very little of the cars in operation.
That’s about to change in 2020: Toyota says it will be conducting a limited ride-hailing pilot in downtown Tokyo with its fleet of “SAE Level-4” automated vehicles. (SAE stands for the Society of Automobile Engineers, and Level 4 is a reference to the group’s classification for an autonomous vehicle that can perform all of the driving tasks under a specific set of conditions, such as weather or geography.)
Toyota may be calling its cars Level 4, but that doesn’t mean they will be completely driverless. Japanese law requires a safety driver behind the wheel at all times who is ready to intervene and take control when necessary. There will also be a technician in the car analyzing the system and vehicle performance and communicating with the safety driver, Toyota says. These trips will likely resemble self-driving tests in the US where all but a very small number of operators keep two employees in the car at all times.
Toyota is only offering rides in its cars for a small window of time: July to September. The cars will be geofenced, meaning they will be restricted to a specific geographic area within Tokyo’s busy Odaiba district. “Odaiba’s complex environment of pedestrians, vehicle traffic, diverse road infrastructure and tall glass buildings provide a challenging setting in which to demonstrate the capabilities of Toyota’s automated driving technology,” Toyota says. People who are interested in riding in the cars can sign up at Toyota’s website; the automaker will then select a group to participate.
The cars will be equipped with Toyota’s “Chauffeur” software, which the automaker has previously described as “focused on full autonomy, where the human is essentially removed from the driving equation, either completely in all environments, or within a restricted driving domain.” Toyota has a second AV product called “Guardian,” which is essentially an advanced driver-assist system, akin to Tesla’s Autopilot. Neither is being offered in any production car today.
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