As you’re surely tired of hearing by now, self-driving cars do not exist. None. Your car can’t drive by itself. But Toyota also suspects it can’t drive all that well with you behind the wheel, so it’s been developing an assisted-driving system called Advanced Drive to help its cars pick up the slack if the human in control makes mistakes. And yeah, it comes with an Autopilot-style highway mode that people hopefully won’t wrongly blame for crashing into cop cars.
The idea with Advanced Drive isn’t to mollycoddle drivers or stop you from driving yourself; Toyota says this is about safety and reducing drivers’ stress. The system comes with emergency braking which will come into play if it perceives you’re headed towards a collision and it also detects whether there’s a sudden change in driver posture or there’s no response to system warnings it gives. In the first case, it tries to help you avoid a crash—in the second case, it’ll try to safely park the car, unlock the doors, and alert anyone around for assistance.
In terms of the Autopilot-style highway driving: it pretty much does the same thing as Tesla’s system, though we’re not quite sure if it requires hands on the wheel or if it’s more like GM’s Super Cruise. Toyota hasn’t made this much clearer as it claims Advanced Drive to be meant for “partial hands-free, eyes-on-the-road operation.”
It can perform most of the car’s driving functions for you while cruising and can even switch lanes and perform overtakes. Of course, it’s not meant to be left unsupervised while doing so, and it’s designed to tell if you’ve gone to sleep while also packing some anti-anxiety driving style features. When passing a big truck, for instance, it’ll keep its distance and put more space between the car and the truck than it would a smaller vehicle, pretty much like a human driver would.
Toyota is at pains to point out this is assisted driving that is intended as an aide, a collaboration between you and the car—not autonomy. From the automaker’s release: “The objective is to achieve automated driving that drivers can rely on through making decisions with the highest priority on safety at all times including consideration for the drivers of other vehicles while achieving natural and smooth driving equivalent to that of a person.”
So the plan is to eventually get there and for this to be an iterative experience for the cars, as they learn and get smarter from being out there on the road. Or rather, they record data that’s transmitted back to Toyota, who will then work out how to use it to make better software and push that as continuous updates.
Toyota will launch this tech in its home market of Japan by way of the Mirai and LS sedans, though it will make an appearance in the United States this fall with the Lexus LS 500h. Expect it to trickle down to other, more pedestrian models in due time.
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