In downtown Detroit, Toyota offered rides in Lexus’s equipped with Automated Highway Driving Assist.
This car is equipped with three new types of driver’s assistance–dynamic (or adaptive) cruise control, lane trace control and a predictive Human-Machine Interface. The cruise control does more than today’s cruise controls because it will apply the brakes and actually stop the car if the car senses an imminent crash and also detects that the driver is not responding. The lane trace control keeps the car in a fixed position in a lane except when the driver turns on the turn signal, informing the car that a turn is imminent. The predictive interface attempts, obviously to anticipate what is up ahead. Sensors in the car can detect shapes and objects that are out of the driver’s visual range, allowing the car to anticipate problems up ahead.
I was in one of these kinds of cars in Japan this past October and it demonstrated vehicle-to-vehicle communication as well. Toyota tells me that this feature will be incorporated into this vehicle when it is introduced either in 2015 or 2016. All of the technologies I am writing about in this blog are ready for production. They are not theoretical.
I am seated in the rear and a professional driver is at the wheel. It’s important to know that he has to make the decision to engage the cruise control and lane trace control. The car does not automatically impose those services. Toyota is trying to build a new kind of relationship between driver and machine and knowing the capabilities of “the other” is very important.
When both of these modes are engaged, the car drives itself. That seems ideal for long highway travel. The devilish problems are how to contend with lanes that are exit only, or merging traffic, or areas of the highway where lanes are not properly marked.
When the car senses that there is about to be a problem, it flashes the word “eyes” on the instrument panel you see to the driver’s right. There is a chime as well. The car can tell where the driver’s eyes are because of a camera located just behind the rear vision mirror. It also can sense if the driver has even one hand on the wheel. The car, in effect, needs to know whether the driver will be capable of responding. When the car detects that the driver’s hands are off the wheel, another icon pops up on the control panel and the chimes steadily escalate to get the driver’s attention.
On the control panel above, you can see a green line. That means lane trace control is engaged and the car intends to follow that path, but the yellow alert box is telling the driver that the highway is coming to an end. So it’s time for the driver to resume control.
The driver was able to make it appear very natural as he moved in and out of the different modes and control of the vehicle passed back and forth between him and the car. But it’s clear that average drivers will have to learn how to get used to these systems. We have adapted to many things over the years–regular cruise control, ABS brakes, etc. Many of those technological improvements have been invisible to us, but the direction that Toyota and other manufacturers are charting will demand that humans learn new patterns of engagement with the vehicle. At the moment, the technology is far ahead of the human capacity to absorb it, much less the ability of government to provide a regulatory framework. I’ll return to those issues in subsequent blogs.