Next week, the lights of Las Vegas will once again shine on the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) when it introduces the TRI-P4 automated driving test vehicle at CES.
The P4 is based on the all-new fifth-generation Lexus LS flagship sedan and will be used in TRI's two-track Guardian and Chauffeur automated driving system development.
"Our Chauffeur development is focused on full autonomy, where the human is essentially removed from the driving equation, either completely in all environments, or within a restricted driving domain," said Ryan Eustice, senior vice president of automated driving at TRI. "Guardian, on the other hand, is being designed to amplify human performance behind the wheel, not replace it. The introduction of the new P4 platform will help us accelerate the development of both tracks when it joins our fleet this spring."
The P4 benefits from Lexus' new generation of chassis and steering control technology, which provides greater agility and allows for more responsive and smoother maneuvers during automated driving.
P4 adds two additional cameras to improve situational awareness on the sides and two new imaging sensors―one facing forward and one pointed to the rear―specifically designed for autonomous vehicles. The imaging sensors feature new chip technology with high dynamic range. The radar system has been optimized to improve the field of view, especially for close range detection around the vehicle perimeter. The LIDAR sensing system with eight scanning heads carries over from the previous test model, Platform 3.0, and morphs into the new vehicle design.
Notably, the Toyota vehicle lacks the large, dome-like long-range lidar that’s a distinguishing feature of Waymo’s fleet of Pacifica Hybrid minivans that officially began picking up pre-screened, paying passengers in December in Chandler, Arizona.
P4 is a much smarter research vehicle than its predecessor. With greater computing power, its systems can operate more machine learning algorithms in parallel for faster learning. It can process sensor inputs faster and react more quickly to the surrounding environment. All computing system power is now drawn from the vehicle's hybrid battery with the 12v battery now serving only as a backup.
The compute box in the trunk serves as the "brain" of the automated driving system. It is now tucked vertically against the rear seat transom, folding down to access the circuitry. This frees up the entire floor of the trunk for hauling cargo.
"We took a holistic approach to integrating autonomous componentry into the design of the new LS," said Scott Roller, senior lead designer at CALTY Design Research. "The result is a fluid surface embracing advanced technology loosely inspired by science fiction in the graphic separations between form and function."
TMNA R&D's Prototype Development Center in York Twp., Mich. will begin fabricating P4 vehicles from stock models this spring.
P4 will make its public debut during Toyota's CES press conference at 1:00 p.m. PT on Jan. 7.
Although Toyota's public test program and targets haven’t been as aggressive as those of Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise unit, Toyota’s significant engineering and financial resources suggest it may be eventually be an autonomous tech powerhouse.
Toyota has said it intends to launch its first self-driving vehicle in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games next year but hasn’t yet provided full details of plans for commercialization. The company is developing a purpose-built robotic rideshare vehicle based on its Sienna minivan with Uber that’s due in 2021, it said in August, when it also boosted investment in the U.S. company by $500 million.