Toyota research division unveils first autonomous test vehicle

Toyota Research Institute (TRI) unveiled its first autonomous test vehicle this week at the Prius challenge event in Sonoma, California.

The Japanese automaker will modify the Lexus LS 600hL, outfitting it with LIDAR, radar, cameras, and other sensors to recognize all objects and movement on the road.

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The underlying software has been in development for more than a decade, but this is Toyota’s first push into the limelight with its self-driving platform. In a press release, the company said it held more patents on self-driving than any other firm.

Guardian…or chauffeur?

Toyota is working on two “core research paths,” called Guardian and Chauffeur.

Guardian is an advanced driver-assist program that alerts the driver to any issues on the road and is able to take control of the car to assist in crash avoidance. Chauffeur is the more ambitious of the two, a fully autonomous system at Level 5 autonomy, the highest level for autonomous cars.

Guardian could be deployed shortly and some features are already available in newer cars, like assisted braking and crash avoidance. Chauffeur does not have a launch date, although Toyota, like most in the industry, is aiming for 2020. It has not said if it will launch a ridesharing service for self-driving vehicles, as Ford and GM appear to be gearing up to do.

Toyota has made a huge investment in artificial intelligence over the past year, with $1 billion set aside for autonomous technologies and robotics. The autonomous test vehicle is part of this investment, aimed at making its self-driving platform even more sophisticated.

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