Toyota aims to become the first automaker to mass market talking cars—that is to say, vehicles that can receive and share data transmitted by external infrastructure and by other vehicles.
So-called “vehicle-to-infrastructure” and “vehicle-to-vehicle” communications are key to enabling autonomous cars because they provide essential safety information that sensors and cameras onboard vehicles cannot pick up. Many automakers, including General Motors, are working on this technology, but Toyota is the first to announce that it will make it available to consumers.
By the end of this year, Toyota will offer an “Intelligent Transportation System” (ITS) safety package on three of its vehicles sold in Japan. The company did not say which vehicles would get the package, how much it would cost, or whether there are plans to offer it in the United States.
“Equipping ITS on these three models will make Toyota the world’s first automaker to bring a driver-assist function that uses a dedicated ITS frequency to market,” Toyota said in a release announcing the decision.
The ITS technology uses a frequency of 760 megahertz, which is standardized for Japan, to send and receive information between vehicles and roadway infrastructure.
With proper equipment in place, including sensors and cameras on roadways—admittedly, a big caveat—traffic signals will be able to trigger warnings in the dashboard of a vehicle that is approaching a red light but not slowing down. This is just one possible scenario where vehicle-to-infrastructure communication could prevent an accident.
In terms of the benefits of cars communicating with each other, one example would be in the form of enhanced radar cruise control. Vehicles on the road today equipped with radar or “adaptive” cruise control, such as the Toyota Avalon, can lock onto the bumper of a vehicle ahead and maintain a set distance, even as the speed of the car ahead fluctuates. This is, in effect, partially autonomous driving—and it’s already possible in many cars today.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication would enable better, more efficient radar cruise control such that multiple vehicles cruising in a row on the highway would be able to adjust their speed almost instantaneously, thereby minimizing fluctuations and smoothing traffic flow.
The biggest obstacle to all of this is getting a “smart” infrastructure in place—particularly in countries like the United States, where local municipalities barely have the budget to maintain aging traffic lights, much less install fancy new ones with sensors and cameras.
Privacy is another complicating factor, at least in the United States, as surveillance of roadways for the sake of homeland security—a thorny issue—has spurred government interest in ITS infrastructure.
Toyota says that gradually selling more and more cars with ITS capabilities will help reduce the number of accidents, particularly ones that occur near intersections, which account for roughly 40 percent of all traffic accidents in Japan, according to the country’s National Police Agency.
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This article was written by Matthew de Paula from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.