Toyota Invests $500M in Uber to Accelerate Autonomous Car Development

The company’s big bet on autonomous vehicles will integrate Uber’s automated driving system with Toyota’s Guardian technology.

 

By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC) and Uber have agreed to expand their collaboration with the aim of advancing and bringing to market large-scale autonomous ride-sharing. Technology from each company will be integrated into specially built Toyota Sienna minivans to be used on Uber’s ride-sharing network. The resulting autonomous fleet may be operated by the Japanese automaker or by mutually agreed upon third-party fleet operators. A pilot program will begin on the Uber ride-sharing network in 2021.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is investing $500 million in Uber. “Combining efforts with Uber, one of the predominant global ride-sharing and automated driving R&D companies, could further advance future mobility,” says Shigeki Tomoyama, executive vice president, TMC, and president, Toyota Connected Company. “This agreement and investment mark an important milestone in our transformation to a mobility company as we help provide a path for safe and secure expansion of mobility services like ride-sharing that includes Toyota vehicles and technologies.”

 

 

Specially developed autonomous Toyota Sienna minivans will join the Uber ride-sharing network in 2021.

 

This isn’t Toyota’s first financial involvement in the autonomous car space. In 2015, it said it would invest $1 billion in the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) artificial intelligence lab. Earlier this year, Toyota said it plans to invest $2.8 billion in a new software company called Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, (TRI-AD). The Japanese automaker is starting the company in conjunction with automotive suppliers Aisin Seiki and Denso to develop software systems that can fully power self-driving vehicles.

Autono-MaaS

Uber’s Autonomous Driving System and the Toyota Guardian automated safety support system will both be integrated into what Toyota calls “Autono-MaaS” (autonomous-mobility as a service) vehicles. When in Guardian mode, the system can warn the driver of any impending danger, and once it makes an autonomous maneuver, it can, when necessary, advise drivers to take back control of the vehicle. The system also monitors the eyes of the drivers, which allows it to detect situations where the driver may be distracted or sleepy.

Toyota will also utilize its Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) core information infrastructure for connected vehicles. “Uber’s automated driving system and Toyota’s Guardian system will independently monitor the vehicle environment and real-time situation, enhancing overall vehicle safety for both the automated driver and the vehicle,” says Dr. Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute CEO.

Body Movement Study

Separately, Toyota has released a summary of the results of its in-depth study of body movements of people in simulated near crashes of autonomous vehicles. It attempted to take into account the new postures that might be present in cases when the “driver,” instead of sitting in a fixed position, is engaged in other activities such as checking email or watching videos.

Toyota ran the study on 87 volunteers at the University of Michigan’s Mcity autonomous driving testing ground in Ann Arbor from 2016 through 2017. Toyota said researchers couldn’t find a pattern in the way people’s bodies reacted. For example, some people looked for something to brace themselves against impact, others simply relied on the seatbelt. The company concluded that much more research is needed and Toyota will start planning a follow-up study on crash posture later this year.

Full findings of the study will be presented by Toyota in October at the 62nd Annual Scientific Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

 

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