Whereas Guardian involves specific safety-critical situations, the institute’s human-interactive driving division is exploring ways to incorporate AI into the human driving experience.
Researchers are culling data from tests in both simulators and on racetracks to try to understand how motorists’ awareness levels correlate to steering, braking and throttle inputs. They’re further monitoring how drivers behave when they encounter yellow lights.
By analyzing and predicting responses, they hope to blend assistive features into the driving experience in a way that feels intuitive and sensible to humans. They further hope they can use AI as a driving coach of sort. It might help humans form better individual habits and incentivize good behavior.
“Imagine a car that you put your teenage children in, and you don’t have to be there,” said Avinash Balachandran, senior director of the human-interactive driving division. “You’re confident the car is going to make them a better driver.”
The notion that R&D efforts should still orbit around the idea of a human driver runs counter to many industry sentiments. And it’s not the only area in which Toyota has flashed a contrarian streak.
The automaker has said it would spend $70 billion on electrification efforts. It has committed to ensuring a third of its approximately 10 million vehicles sold globally each year are EVs by 2030. But Toyota says reducing carbon emissions should be its primary goal, not selling electric vehicles.
Toyota believes there are alternatives, namely hydrogen fuel cells, that can overcome battery-electric limitations in specific applications, such as long-haul trucking, and achieve a faster path toward net-zero emissions.
“We believe we need diverse solutions,” said Brian Storey, senior director of the institute’s energy and materials division.
It is his job to find and enhance them.
The division develops new materials for batteries and fuel cells as well as hydrogen electrolyzer and solar technology. It’s working on battery chemistries that need less rare-earth material and researching solid-state battery technology. The institute works with several university partners and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Part of their work utilizes new algorithms that make faster sense of datasets than humans could understand on their own.
It can take almost 50 years for new chemistries to transform into mature products, Storey said, and “a lot has to happen in a short amount of time” for the industry to meet carbon-reduction targets.
Part of his mission is to shrink that time frame by utilizing new machine-learning techniques. It helps focus research when “there’s an infinite number of possibilities, and we’ve only scratched the surface in the kinds of things we can make,” he said.
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