Toyota Guardian Technology Blends Together Man and Machine

Every automaker is working towards road and vehicular safety in some way or another. While most of them are doing it through autonomous technology, Toyota Research Institute had a breakthrough last year to fulfill its moral obligation towards road safety. In a nutshell, the technology, called “Guardian,” coordinates the skills of the human driver and the vehicle they’re driving. What’s even better is that Toyota intends to share this with other automakers as well.

Inspired Technology, Yet Very Effective
The technology was inspired by modern-day fighter jets that use a low-level flight control system to translate the intent of the pilot and keep the aircraft stable and tucked neatly inside a specific safety envelope.

Toyota calls it blended envelope control, an approach that lets its “Guardian” driver assist system combine the skills of the human driver and the vehicle. After testing it and realizing that it could save numerous lives with this, Toyota decided to share this technology with other automakers. Toyota is now calling it the “Guardian for all.”

What They Had To Say

Toyota Showcases its "Toyota Guardian" Technology that Could Create Superhuman Drivers
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The technology is still a few years away, though. Speaking with reporters at the CES, Toyota Research Institute’s CEO, Gill Pratt, said that he wasn’t sure if they would license the software or a combination of hardware and software to automakers. He only noted that Toyota has the desire and intent to open this technology up to the rest of the automotive industry.

"It’s a seamless blend of human and machine working together as teammates." "Our Guardian alerts the driver visually and audibly of imminent danger, and it avoids it by maneuvering out of the lane briefly, then returning to the original lane to avoid the obstruction," Pratt said. He also stated that “We were thinking about what would be good for society. We will not keep it proprietary to ourselves only. But we will offer it in some way to others, whether that’s through licensing or actual whole systems.”

Don’t Mix It With ‘Autonomy’ In General Sense

Toyota Showcases its "Toyota Guardian" Technology that Could Create Superhuman Drivers
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Although this seems like autonomy, Toyota has taken a dual approach it - one being the ‘Guardian’ and the other, ‘Chauffeur.’

For the latter, the Japanese giant intends to develop and deploy fully autonomous cars to serve an aging population, the disabled, or whoever might need a robo-taxi.

The CEO also added that there is still much to be done before these types of vehicles will be on the road in any meaningful way. Pratt also added, “We have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible.” Now, this being a dual approach, Toyota will be using the Guardian technology that operates in the background and steps in when needed. The driver is always driving, but Guardian is watching, sensing and anticipating problems.

Guardian Could Become a True Lifesaver

Toyota Showcases its "Toyota Guardian" Technology that Could Create Superhuman Drivers
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According to Toyota, ‘Guardian,’ unlike the ‘Chauffeur,’ is designed to amplify human control of the vehicle and not replace it. To show how it works, Toyota Research Institute showed a video at the Consumer Electronics Show of a three-car accident that included one of its self-driving research vehicles being driven in manual mode. However, the vehicle’s sensors were still capturing data.

Had the ‘Guardian’ technology been there, it would have anticipated or identified the pending incident and employed a corrective responsive in coordination with driver input.

From the video’s context, the automaker’s modeling and testing determined that the system would have prompted the vehicle to accelerate out of the way to avoid the accident altogether.

Our Take

Toyota Showcases its "Toyota Guardian" Technology that Could Create Superhuman Drivers
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This seems like a Hybrid approach – neither fully autonomous, not fully manual. Even though the technology looks very promising on paper, we will know the actual results only when it is practically tested in the real-world. According to Ford, the self-driving cars and related mobility services could become a $10 trillion market within a few years.

But Pratt said the technology would be here in the 2020s and that it would be open to all automakers.

Given how we are evolving towards autonomy, this technology could put Toyota on a pedestal, and the automaker could boast itself as the safety leader in the rEVolution. Do you think Toyota would give this technology for free? Or would it earn royalty from the automakers who use it? Let us know your thoughts on this whole idea in the comments section below.

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Toyota Guardian Will Amplify Human Control, Not Remove it
Envelope-Control System Mimics Fighter Jet, Blending Best Input from Human and Machine
Test Vehicle Crash on California Highway Reenacted with Actual Video and 3D Animation
January 07, 2019
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 7, 2019 – Toyota is doubling-down on humans. That’s the answer to the question; What has the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) been doing in automated driving over the past 12 months? Using onboard cameras, sensors and 3D animation, TRI opened its portion of a press conference today at the annual CES show in Las Vegas with a vivid reenactment of a three-car crash on a California interstate, where no one was injured.

“We know what happened because we were there, in the thick of it,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, TRI CEO and Toyota Motor Corporation Fellow. “Our test vehicle was travelling at freeway speed in manual mode with its autonomy mode disabled as it gathered data at the many tunnels and bridges in the San Francisco bay area. As we downloaded data from the incident, we asked ourselves; Could this crash have been mitigated, or avoided altogether by a future Toyota Guardian automated safety system? We believe the answer is yes.”

From its beginning three years ago, TRI has been committed to a two-track development approach to automated driving. Its on-going Chauffeur development focuses on full autonomy, where the human is essentially removed from the driving equation, either completely in all environments, or within a restricted operational design domain (ODD). Toyota Guardian, on the other hand, is being developed to amplify human control of the vehicle, not replace it. With Toyota Guardian, the driver is meant to be in control of the car at all times, except in those cases where it anticipates or identifies a pending incident and employs a corrective response in coordination with driver input.

One of TRI’s most significant breakthroughs this year, was the creation of blended envelope control where Guardian combines and coordinates the skills and strengths of the human and the machine. The system was inspired and informed by the way that modern fighter jets are flown, where you have a pilot that flies the stick, but actually they don’t fly the plane directly. Instead, their intent is translated by the low-level flight control system, thousands of times a second to stabilize the aircraft and stay within a specific safety envelope

This blended envelope control is much more difficult to create in a car than in a fighter jet. That is because the control envelope for a car is not only defined by vehicle dynamics, but also by the vehicle’s perception and prediction ability of all things in its immediate environment.

The big idea is that this control envelope is not a discrete on-off switch between the human and the autonomy. It’s really a near-seamless blend of both, working as teammates to extract the best input from each.

Guardian is being developed as an automated safety system, capable of operating with either a human driver, or an autonomous driving system, provided by Toyota, or any other company. This is a key capability.

As Akio Toyoda announced at CES last year, Toyota plans to include Toyota Guardian as standard equipment on all Toyota e-Palette platforms that the company will build for the MaaS---Mobility as a Service--- market. By doing so, MaaS fleet buyers can use any autonomous system they choose, with Toyota Guardian acting as a belt-and-suspender redundancy for any self-driving Chauffeur system.

Pratt stressed the importance of not underestimating the difficulty of developing an autonomous Chauffeur system, both technologically and sociologically. 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,” stated Pratt, “we have a moral obligation to apply automated vehicle technology to save as many lives as possible as soon as possible.”

That is why TRI’s primary focus last year has been to concentrate most of its effort on making Toyota Guardian a smarter machine. For Guardian to learn and get smarter, it must be subjected to difficult and demanding driving scenarios, “corner cases” that are simply too dangerous to perform on public roads. On closed courses, Guardian’s intelligence and capabilities can be stretched and challenged. Through continuous refinement, Guardian learns how best to navigate and react to extremely dangerous scenarios, as they unfold.

This growing Guardian capability gives the three-car incident in California shown during the opening press conference sequence, an interesting lemons-to-lemonade twist. Here was an accidental corner case on a public highway; a dangerous crash that unfolded right before Guardian’s sensors and cameras.

From that data, TRI developed an accurate simulation which was then translated into a learning tool for the car to figure out its options in a split-second. The scenario was then re-created on the test track, using real vehicles and a guided, soft-target, dummy-vehicle. In this instance, Guardian’s best option was to quickly accelerate for daylight and away from encroaching vehicles. Here is a case where Guardian might avoid, or mitigate a collision for itself, while potentially doing the same for other nearby vehicles; in a way, an Altruistic Guardian.

Pratt addressed another key capability that makes Toyota Guardian even more evocative.

“We humans have an inherent need for autonomy, which is much stronger than our desire for autonomous cars,” said Pratt. “It’s about the sheer delight of mobility when a child first learns to stand-up and giggle its way across a room without the help of mom or dad. And it is the joy of just going for a drive, behind the wheel of a car that can accelerate, brake and turn as if an extension of your body.”

The joy of driving is an inherent and deliberate component of Guardian. Hands-on-the-wheel and eyes-on-the-road is first-and-foremost about safety. But it is not ALL about safety. It is also about how a driver feels behind the wheel; safe and secure to enjoy the drive, instead of the ride.

And, it’s about the democratization of safety, a philosophy Toyota and Lexus pioneered nearly three years ago, when it began providing automatic emergency braking as standard equipment in nearly every model and trim level sold in the US.

“We think the most important benefit of automated driving, is not about the autonomy of cars,” concluded Pratt, “but about the safety and autonomy of people.”

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