Automakers around the world are battling to one-up each other with a show of technological might through autonomous systems, yet Toyota and its Lexus luxury division won’t step into the arena until 2020 according to reports.
Officially the two Japanese brands will begin to introduce some autonomous systems from 2018 but Automotive News reports that Toyota will save its more advanced next generation systems for a prototype expo set to coincide with the the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Toyota’s announcement trails other Japanese companies, with Nissan already equipping some domestic-market vehicles with semi-autonomous cruise control systems that can follow other traffic, maintain lane position, and come to a complete stop on motorways with the system set to expand to include multi-lane and urban functionality soon.
Toyota is believed to have strategically selected the Tokyo Olympics, not just for the global attention it will receive, but because the Odaiba waterfront district of Tokyo, where many Olympic events will be staged, offers a favorable demonstration location with wide, straight streets, simple intersections, and low volumes of traffic unlike many other regions of Tokyo.
Lexus previewed its take on autonomous driving technology as early as 2013 with a network of systems that can maintain a safe following distance, and slow down for and steer through corners, at the time claiming to have the system ready for a 2015 rollout - an introduction that still hasn’t occurred.
Earlier this year Toyota announced that it would boost R&D spending on advanced autonomous and safety systems, investigating how self-driving vehicles would be integrated with, and accepted by human drivers. The program is scheduled to run over the next five years.
Lexus president Tokuo Fukuichi has previously suggested that some automakers might be putting technological superiority ahead of the needs and wants of customers, explaining the brand’s slow uptake of autonomous technology.
Part of the delay in Toyota’s introduction of autonomous technology comes down to a lack of high definition mapping of Japan’s freeway network, a process that’s estimated will be nearer to completion by 2020, although the rest of Japan’s road network still poses a complex problem.
Toyota is also hesitant to use the term ‘autonomous’, instead preferring automated so as not to create a false impression that such systems are foolproof, and reminding driver’s that they will still be required to assist in some situations, in stark contrast to automakers like Volvo that insist automakers will have to take full responsibility for the actions of self-driving systems.