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Toyota's Guardian autonomous tech will "amplify" drivers, not replace them

Drivers will play a key role in Toyota's autonomous future

Toyota's dipped its sizeable toe into the autonomous waters, unveiling its P4 self-driving car - equiped with new Guardian technology the brand says is inspired by fighter jets - at the CES tech show in Las Vegas.

As other manufacturers race to remove the driver from the equation entirely, Toyota is taking a decidedly different approach, with the global giant insisting humans will play a key role in autonomy for some time yet.

While Toyota is working on level five autonomous vehicles - which it calls Chauffeur - the brand is pragmatic about just how long it will take for the technology to actually work as expected, and to be accepted by the roader public.

"The essence of Toyota Guardian is about amplifying, rather than replacing human ability, like giving dad his keys back for a bit more time behind the wheel, or even more importantly, saving teenage lives where car crashes account for 30 percent of fatalities," says Toyota Research Institute CEO, Dr. Gill Pratt.

"From its beginning, TRI has been committed to a two-track approach to automated driving simultaneously developing Toyota Guardian, while working on Level-4 and level 5 self-driving systems that we call Toyota Chauffeur.

"Technically, how do we train a machine about the social ballet required to navigate through an ever-changing environment, as well as, or better than, a human driver? Sociologically, public acceptance of the inevitable crashes, injuries, and deaths that will occur due to fully autonomous Chauffeur systems may take considerable time.

"In the meantime, we have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible."

The brand's P4 - a fifth-generation Lexus LS - is equipped with two new cameras for side vision, and an imaging sensor at the front and rear of the vehicles that feature high-range radars, all of which are powered by the hybrid battery. There is also a LIDAR sensing system with eight scanning heads. The P4 will form the test vehicle for the roll-out of both Guardian and Chauffeur technology.

The Guardian program is designed to work with a human driving enhancing (or correcting) their inputs if it senses a crash. According to Toyota “the driver is meant to be in control of the car at all times” unless the system decides it needs to employ a “corrective response in coordination with driver input”. The brand says the system is inspired by fighter jets, apparently, in that the pilot isn’t entirely in charge of the plane, rather an automatic flight-control system ensures it stays within a “safety envelope”.

"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," says TRI senior vice president, Ryan Eustice. "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."

How far away is level five autonomy? Tell us in the comments below.