Toyota, Japan’s biggest carmaker, plans to introduce vehicles that are capable of driving themselves on highways as early as 2020. But before that happens, there’s the task of developing hardware and software, dramatically slashing costs, and ramping up hiring of software engineers to make it happen.
Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development (TRI-AD) recently opened in Tokyo, setting out to bridge the gap between research and the self-driving vehicle showroom floor. TRI-AD is the result of a $2.8 billion investment shared by Toyota and Toyota Group suppliers Aisin Seiki and Denso.
American James Kuffner, CEO of TRI-AD, says, “The prototypes and the preproduction vehicles that the team is building here at TRI-AD are going to be … the most intelligent supercomputer on wheels. We’ve called it the moonshot of my generation to build this technology and bring it to market.”
A modified Lexus LS sedan is the mobile laboratory for the prototype, and the 2020 vehicle will also be a Lexus, which means very expensive. The car will need hardware and software not yet in production, and the required array of advanced cameras, lidars, and radars won’t be cheap.
According to Ken Koibuchi, TRI-AD chief technical officer, “To deploy in middle-class vehicles, we have to reduce costs dramatically.” He says the cost must drop by more than half of today’s levels.
In the meantime, TRI-AD is ramping up staffing, competing for the best software and artificial intelligence engineers worldwide. Creating the self-standing autonomous driving unit may help Toyota lure top computing talent. Kuffner says people respond well to the company’s mission. “I can tell a top-talented software engineer, ‘Would you like to write software to sell ads, or would you like to write software to save lives?’” he says. “And they’ll join us.”
The pressure to bring the first self-driving vehicle to market has resulted in promises from many car manufacturers. Whether Toyota is the company that actually makes good on that promise remains to be seen.
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Greimel, Hans. (9 Feb 2019). Toyota’s moonshot: Self-driving car for sale — in a year. Automotive News. �=� �In�