Beige Screen of Death: Toyota Wants People, Not Computers, Crashing Its Cars

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
beige screen of death toyota wants people not computers crashing its cars

The Toyota Motor Corporation is a little skeptical of the imminency of self-driving vehicles. It plans on continuing production of designs where human operators are saddled with the bulk of the driving responsibilities for years to come.

The automaker is openly dubious that tech-focused companies like Waymo and Tesla are sufficiently far enough along to hint at delivering self-driving cars. However, Toyota’s problem with handing the keys to a computer has as much to do with leaving companies open to litigation and criticism as it does with the technology simply not yet being ready.

North America expects millions of traffic accidents every year, but is much less willing to accept computer-controlled chaos at even a fraction of that scale.

“None of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving true Level 5 autonomy,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota’a Research Institute, at this year’s CES. “It will take many years of machine learning and many more miles than anyone has logged of both simulated and real-world testing to achieve the perfection required.’’

Pratt’s background makes him an excellent candidate to call bullshit. Previously, Pratt served as the top robotics expert for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Toyota hired him to lead its charge into automotive Artificial Intelligence and autonomous technology. The company spent over a billion dollars establishing its research institute, populating it with the best minds associated with AI and robotic engineering.

Could it be that Toyota is just behind the times? Tesla is already making promises that every new car it makes will have the hardware required for total self-driving capabilities. Google’s car project has transformed into Waymo, and claims its fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids is ready to go. Even Uber has tested self-steering Volvos and Fords on public roads.

Toyota says that, for the most part, automakers will focus on what SAE International considers Level 2 autonomy. Anything higher would be nonviable without a lot more testing, it claims.

“It was a surprisingly sober and realistic view of the challenges that autonomous vehicles face,’’ Mike Dovorany, an analyst at The Carlab, told Bloomberg. “I give them kudos.’’

According to Pratt, the safest and most lucrative course of action is to provide Level 2 autonomy where computers have some control over steering, speed, and braking, but require a human operator to maintain control. When the technology is ready, however, Toyota says it may just skip Level 3 and implement Level 4.

The jump would avoid an era of less-trustworthy computer-controlled vehicles. At Level 4, the car can make all driving decisions on approved roadways — likely starting with highways — and hand control back to the fleshy masses in less predictable areas.

[Image: Toyota]

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  • 05lgt 05lgt on Jan 05, 2017

    I'm seeing more difference in spin / marketing than the substance of the claims. Tesla carefully says new cars will have "the hardware", Alphabet spun off Waymo gaining distance from liability, and TMC said the same things with a spin that downplays the threat to their market. The messages are all massaged to help the parent companies stock though.

  • APaGttH APaGttH on Jan 05, 2017

    Toyotas future crystal ball is a tad cloudy it seems. A decade plus ago they said electrification was poo poo, hybrids were a bridge, and the real answer was hydrogen fuel cell. Now we have Prii with all the charm of a Pontiac Aztek, they broke up with Tesla, no dedicated electric, and their pants are a bit down (yes they have hybrid leadership but Prius sales are in the tank). So they say self-driving cars are meh while the rest of the industry races toward the technology. Toyota is losing its edge, bit by bit.

    • See 1 previous
    • Tedward Tedward on Jan 06, 2017

      @stuki Good point on the cost difference. What tesla, uber, Google and Apple have shown is that they dont weigh the safety of the general public on the same scale as established manufacturers. Whether that weight is determined by experience with liability, brand value protection, utopian fundamentalism or altruism is irrelevant to me as a road user. It's hard to assign a cause. Employee age and experience, the pep rally tech industry thing, a focus on shorter term financials and plain greed all probably play a role. The push to remove the driver and traditional control interfaces from the current test cars makes me genuinely angry. The only upside for such a change is in the pr value that their current test fleets can provide. Our safety is negotiable when it comes to tech r&d, but the idea that all it costs is some short term marketing department gains is obscene.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂