The full name of the beast with a million eyes is “Automated Driving Research Vehicle Platform 3.0.” Toyota didn’t say how many sensors are festooned on the specially built Lexus LS 600hL, but we counted 17. That includes six forward-facing cameras, four or five of those LIDAR sensors and a bunch of what might have been radar outposts glommed onto the sides. We’ll get the exact number and identification of each sensor next week at CES. The result of all that sensing is a far-more efficient “vision” of the road on which the car will be driving itself. With all those sensors, it can “see” more than 650 feet in all directions, whereas the previous car, Automated Driving Research Vehicle Platform 2.0, could only “see” in front of itself.
“Platform 3.0 has a very sensor-rich package that makes it one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road,” Toyota said. “The Luminar LIDAR system with 200-meter (656 feet) range, which had only tracked the forward direction on TRI’s previous test platform, now covers the vehicle’s complete 360-degree perimeter. This is enabled by four high-resolution LIDAR scanning heads, which precisely detect objects in the environment including notoriously difficult-to-see dark objects.”
LIDAR, which as you know stands for Light Imaging Detection and Ranging, is one of the car’s sensors. Short-range LIDAR sensors are what you see on the front quarter panels and front and rear bumpers. These can detect low-level and smaller objects near the car. Cameras also assist in “seeing” what is around the car.
Toyota is also proud of the 3.0’s exterior design. The company’s CALTY design studio in California integrated the sensors into the body more smoothly than it did those found glommed onto the old 2.0 research vehicle.
“Automotive designers’ roles have been pivoting toward thinking deeper and greater on how to design and apply automated driving technology for drivers and passengers,” said Scott Roller, Senior Lead Designer at CALTY Design Research who worked on the project. “It’s exciting to integrate the components in harmony with the car’s design.”
Even the 3.0’s computational architecture for operating all those automated vehicle components, which previously consumed nearly all the trunk space, has been better consolidated into a small, artfully designed box in the trunk adorned with an LED-lit TRI logo.
Very limited production of the Platform 3.0s will begin this spring at the Prototype Development Center in Michigan, using stock Lexus LS cars. Some of them will get a dual cockpit control layout for testing TRI’s Guardian approach to automated driving, experimenting with effective methods to transfer vehicle control between the human test driver and the automated system while maintaining a safety driver as a backup. Single cockpit vehicles, like the one that will be on display at CES, are used to test Chauffeur, which is TRI’s approach to full vehicle automation. Both Guardian and Chauffeur test vehicles use the same technology stack of sensors and cameras and similar software.
When will all this be in showrooms for you to buy? Toyota ain’t sayin’. But these new research vehicles are a necessary step to getting there.