Toyota to Test Toughest Autonomous Driving Scenarios at New Facility

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As development of autonomous vehicle technology progresses, the need to test ever more complex scenarios becomes a problem. Testing is happening on public roads, but the everyday driving issues we all face aren’t the biggest challenge. Instead, it’s the worst case scenarios that pose a problem for engineers to decipher. Toyota plans to test out those scenarios at a new facility in Michigan.

The Toyota Research Institute is currently building a new test facility at Michigan Technical Resource Park (MITRP) in Ottawa Lake, Michigan. The 60-acre site will be used solely for replicating what Toyota is calling “edge case” driving scenarios. These are the kinds of things we hope never to experience in the real world, but autonomous vehicles will need to be able to handle them when they do happen.

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“By constructing a course for ourselves, we can design it around our unique testing needs and rapidly advance capabilities, especially with Toyota Guardian automated vehicle mode,” said Ryan Eustice, TRI senior vice president of automated driving. “This new site will give us the flexibility to customize driving scenarios that will push the limits of our technology and move us closer to conceiving a human-driven vehicle that is incapable of causing a crash.”

The facility will be inside MITRP’s oval test track and will include a variety of driving environments. It will replicate urban congestion, slippery roads, and four-lane divided highways along with on and off ramps. The idea is to build a facility where all driving situations possible can be easily replicated.

Autonomous technology, once something everyone was excited to experience, is now falling out of favor. It’s not that people don’t want it, although some certainly don’t, but that the number of accidents involving this tech is putting its safety into question. When it seemed like it would eliminate crashes, the public was ready, but reports of accidents involving autonomous technology has the public on edge.

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There’s little doubt that one day autonomous cars will make our roads safer. Even now it’s helping, particularly features like autonomous emergency braking. This feature is proven to reduce accidents, but features like autopilot are running into trouble. Automakers point to user error for this burgeoning technology that still requires a driver’s full attention, but that’s not what the public sees.

The public sees an autonomous car crashing and sometimes killing someone. This erodes trust. Toyota hopes to advance its technology with this new test facility and earn back some of the trust autonomous vehicles have lost.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin