Toyota Research Institute, the Silicon Valley-based arm of the biggest carmaker in the world, just unveiled the latest version of its autonomous test vehicle. The vehicle — a Lexus LS 600hL test vehicle equipped with LIDAR, radar, and camera arrays — is an iterative improvement on the vehicle Toyota showed off twice last year. (The institute is calling this one Platform 3.0.) The car will be on display at CES in Las Vegas next week.
the vehicle now has a 200-meter range around a 360-degree perimeter
The biggest improvement over previous versions of Toyota’s autonomous research vehicles is the ability to “see” farther in every direction. Thanks to four long-range LIDAR sensors attached to its roof, manufactured by a Portola Valley, California-based startup called Luminar, the vehicle now has a 200-meter range around a 360-degree perimeter, which Toyota argues makes it “one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road.”
By comparison, Velodyne’s powerful LIDAR, the HDL-64E, has a 120-meter range, while its most popular LIDAR, the VLP-16 Puck, has a range of 100 meters. (Velodyne recently slashed the price of the VLP-16 in half, which could help facilitate the widespread adoption of autonomous cars.)
Toyota’s car also has a new and improved look, with a more seamless integration of the cameras and sensor array into the vehicle’s design. Toyota Research Institute said it tapped the CALTY Design Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and engineers at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development to help improve the car’s appearance:
They created a new rooftop weather and temperature proof panel, cleverly using available space in the sunroof compartment to minimize the overall height. Their ingenuity eliminates the look of equipment as bolt-on appendages and replaces the “spinning bucket” LIDAR sensor that has historically characterized autonomous test vehicles.
Production of Platform 3.0 vehicles begins this spring. A share of the new test vehicles will be assembled with the dual-steering wheel layout that TRI debuted last summer.
To be sure, Toyota has been more coy about releasing information on its autonomous systems to the public. A recent analysis by Navigant places the Japanese automaker further behind OEMs like Ford, General Motors, Daimler, and BMW in its ability to deploy a fully self-driving car by the industry’s target date of 2021. (An updated version of Navigant’s leaderboard is coming out later this month, so it should be interesting to see where Toyota places in the new ranking.)
Several big car companies have already struck deals with tech companies like Waymo, Uber, and Lyft to speed the process along. Toyota has stayed noticeably on the sidelines during much of the talks around partnerships. With the release of its latest vehicles, Toyota appears ready to join the fray.