Toyota Safety Sense – Toyota’s newest self-driving features

Self Driving and Driver Assist Technology

On November 26, 2014, Toyota announced its future plans for active safety features. I view many of these as the first steps towards self-driving cars. Toyota won’t be the first to offer these features, and many of them have been available for several years on different manufacturers cars. Some of them are already present on Toyota cars, but they haven’t been the most effective versions available. Hopefully their new systems will work better.

Toyota is calling their active safety features Toyota Sense, and it will be available in two versions depending on the car model. Safety Sense C will be for the compact cars, and Safety Sense P will be for midsize and higher end cars.

The core features of the Safety Sense C include: 1) pre-collision system (PCS) 2) Lane departure alert (LDA) and 3) automatic high beam (AHB).

The core features of the Safety Sense P are the same as the C, but also includes a pedestrian detection ability and an adaptive cruise control.

In a separate announcement, Toyota mentioned advanced communication features available as an option on the Safety Sense P on certain vehicles. These advanced communications include vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and infrastructure to vehicle technologies.

Pre-collision systems have been around for a while now and the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) seems to be getting some traction with their rating system. Toyota hasn’t faired very well in their tests so far, getting a lot of heat for their very poor performance on the Prius V collision prevention system test last year. In fact, the IIHS says the current system doesn’t even meet their minimum standards to be considered a forward collision warning system.

Based on the material presented by Toyota, it looks like the new collision detection will issue an alert and then initiate braking if the driver does not intervene first.

For the Safety Sense C, the PCS uses a camera and laser, and then issues a sound a visual alert, and the system prepares additional braking power when the brake is pressed. If the driver doesn’t respond, the system will automatically brake. Toyota claims the system in the C version reduces speed by approximately 30 km/h which converts to around 18.5 mph.

For the Safety Sense P, the PCS uses a camera and millimeter-wave radar which can detect pedestrians as well as other vehicles. For pedestrian detection, the speed can be reduced approximately 30 km/h (18.5 mph), but for other vehicles, speed can be reduced approximately 40 km/h (24.9 mph). If it can reduce speed by 25 mph to avoid front collisions, it will pass the current top test the IIHS administers.

The Lane Departure Alert appears to be the same in both system, using a camera to detect lane markings. If the vehicle wonders out of the lane, the system will alert the drive with a sound a visual alert. The Prius has offered a Lane Keep Assist in it’s top end Advanced Technology Package, but I’m not sure how well that really works. A Lane Keep Assist is more in line with self-driving cars, but I think the public doesn’t like the thought that people may rely on the system to steer for them, rather than having the driver expected to pay attention. Interestingly, lane departure alerts have NOT been shown to prevent accidents. In fact, the trend was towards INCREASED accidents in the Buick and Mercedes systems, and only a modest reduction in the Volvo version. More studies are definitely needed to understand that unexpected finding.

The Automatic High Beam uses a camera to detect headlights of oncoming vehicles and automatically lowering the headlights to the standard low beam instead of the high “bright” beam. The idea is that people will be more likely to keep the high beam on which will notice obstacles sooner.

Adaptive headlights have been shown to reduce accidents, but those system were looking at headlights that change horizontal direction as the driver turns. That is different from the system Toyota is using of an automatic high beam. I’m not sure how much the automatic high beam will help, but it seems like a logical system to have.

Based on the press release, it seems Toyota will be rolling out these updated safety features in the next year for most models in Japan. They only say they will have it covering most models in Europe and the US by 2017.

I’ll try to write up some more information about the V2V technologies Toyota discussed soon.