One of the most significant challenges facing autonomous vehicle operations is the transfer between human and machine control. So while it would appear that Toyota is guilty of over-engineering its latest autonomous vehicle prototype by giving a modified Lexus LS 600h two steering wheels – there is some method to their madness.
The placement of a steering wheel and pedals on both sides of the vehicle, with the traditional passenger seat also getting a display screen instead of an instrument panel, was implemented to help test the best ways to transition between autonomous controls and a human driver.
Unveiled as part of the Toyota Research Institute’s Platform 2.1, the prototype also deploys new advances for environmental recognition and quicker object detection. These developments enhance the vehicle’s predictive capabilities while capturing road sign and lane marking data.
A new LIDAR platform from Luminar was also added that features an extended sensing range and more detailed three-dimensional point recognition and mapping systems.
But getting back to that extra steering wheel, - basically, it allows for tracking real-world driver responses to situations that could arise while the vehicle is in one of Toyota’s two autonomous modes.
Chauffeur mode is the fully autonomous mode, while the safety-focused Guardian mode allows the driver to maintain control, but kicks in if the driver falls asleep or doesn’t react quickly enough to avoid a collision or accident.
While the driver’s seat is occupied by a researcher, the passenger side steering wheel is used to develop algorithms based on how a driver with varying levels of competence and experience will respond to traffic or obstacles in either of the two autonomous modes.
Toyota hopes to use this data to build algorithms focused on enhancing both autonomous platforms.