Carmaker Toyota – in an unusual move for the cut-throat car
business – has decided to share with rivals an automated safety system that
uses self-driving technology to keep cars from crashing.
The system, known as Guardian, will take control of a car
and steer it around an impending crash or accelerate out of the path of an
oncoming vehicle running a red light.
The technology due to hit the road early next decade has the
potential to save so many lives that the automaker felt compelled to share it
with any company that would like to use it, Gill Pratt, chief executive officer
of the Toyota Research Institute, said Monday at CES.
“We were thinking about what would be good for society,”
Pratt said at a press conference at the trade show formerly known as the
Consumer Electronics Show, which has become a showcase for driverless cars. “We
will not keep it proprietary to ourselves only. But we will offer it in some
way to others, whether that’s through licensing or actual whole systems.”
Self-driving cars and related mobility services could become
a $10trn market, according to Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Hackett.
Toyota’s seemingly selfless act could pay off in fat royalties
and potentially burnish its reputation as a safety and technology leader just
as those attributes become critical to the autonomous age. Toyota insists it’s
about saving lives in a world where 1.3 million people die on the highway each
“This is a super advanced driver assist system,”
said Ryan Eustice, senior vice president of automated driving at the Toyota
Research Institute. “There’s a real opportunity to have a near-term impact
on saving lives.”
The technology, which Toyota has been developing for three
years, can take over and guide a car out of harm’s way when the human driver
becomes drowsy, distracted or drunk, Pratt said.
It uses many of the same sensors found in fully self-driving
cars, such as cameras, radar and light-reflecting lidar, to determine the
safest path to take, and corrects human errors, which regulators say is the
cause of more than 90% of road deaths.
“The human is still the primary driver,” Eustice
said. “It is working with the human and creating a bubble around you of
360-degree situational awareness.”
Beyond the safety benefits, the driver-assist features
improve the skills of the human driver to perform more complicated maneuvers,
such as taking on a twisting mountain road with sharp switchbacks.
“This amplification of the human really makes the car
even more fun to drive,” Eustice said.