Once regarded as a distant, almost futuristic technology, it is now a question of “when”, rather than “if”, autonomous driving systems will hit the market at scale. This month, Toyota Motors took a significant step in that direction, announcing that it intends to deploy self-driving vehicles by 2020. That’s just five years into the future. At this point, it seems more likely that the date will move forward, rather than back.

The announcement comes simultaneously with the launch of new technology that will allow Toyota’s vehicles to “talk to each other, scan blind spots, warn of changing traffic lights and keep a safe distance from other cars.” Many of those features are already being utilised individually and in combination in newer Toyota models and by other leading manufacturers,

Safety is the largest driver of autonomous driving technology development at this time. Manufacturers have reached a plateau in terms of the improvements that can be made to seat-belts and the frame of the car.

Instead, companies like Toyota are investing in technology that has the power to prevent crashes to begin with. Toyota chief safety technology officer Moritaka Yoshida described autonomous driving as “a technology that will change the concept of the car.”

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: Clydeyello
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: Clydeyello

The part of the tech that still needs development is communication systems, both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure, known as ‘intelligent transportation systems’ (ITS).

The development of ITS is also a potential catalyst for a different vision of our mobility system. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Growth Within report factored in the development and widespread adoption of autonomous driving technology into an alternative vision for mobility in Europe, where the cost per passenger-kilometre could be reduced by up to 60-80%.

Several leading car manufacturers are now expected to release autonomous vehicles in the not too distant future, including Nissan, Audi and General Motors.

Source: Toyota Unveils New Self-Driving Safety Tech, Targets 2020 Autonomous Drive

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