The company’s autonomous Lexus LS gains new LIDAR sensors

A few years ago, concept cars were mostly about futuristic design features and new technology. This is still available today, but most automakers are including semi or fully autonomous driving systems in their show cars. This technology is supposed to become a production feature in 2021, and everyone is racing to get there first. Toyota is among those companies, and it just introduced an update to the LIDAR-equipped Lexus that it showed off twice in 2017. It’s still built around the old LS600hL — the Japanese firm launched a new LS last year — but it’s now called Platform 3.0 and comes with numerous upgrades.

The company’s Research Institute teamed up with more firms and departments than ever to create the third prototype, including CALTY Design Research in Michigan, Toyota Motor North America Research and Development, and Luminar. The latter has recently developed the most powerful LIDAR system on the market, which made its debut on this autonomous Lexus. Production of the CES-bound concept car is scheduled to commence this spring, but volume will be kept low, and all vehicles will be built for testing purposes only. Let’s find out more about Toyota’s most performant autonomous car yet in the review below.

Continue reading to find out more about the Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 autonomous car.

Design

  • Previous-generation Lexus LS donor car
  • Optimized sensors
  • Smaller roof LIDAR system
  • Short range bumper and fender sensors
2018 Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 Autonomous Car Exterior
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Showcase the most efficient way to integrate the LIDAR system and all the gadgets required to make a car fully autonomous

Just like the previous model, Platform 3.0 is based on the Lexus 600hL. The outgoing model that is! In 2017, Lexus launched a new-generation LS but Toyota opted to use the old sedan. It may seem a bit redundant, but it all makes sense. Adopting the LIDAR systems and all the tech that comes with an autonomous car to the brand-new Lexus LS would have been pretty expensive and it would have taken a few more months to put together. The Japanese firm is probably looking to make its autonomous concept fully functional, feasible, and somewhat affordable before putting it on a new production model.

Redesigned with help from CALTY Design Research and Toyota's Research and Development center, Platform 3.0 looks like a normal vehicle for the most part

No fewer than 12 years old as of 2018, this Lexus LS may be extremely boring to look at, but Platform 3.0 isn’t about good looks and modern styling cues. Its purpose on the outside is to showcase the most efficient way to integrate the LIDAR system and all the gadgets required to make a car fully autonomous. Compared to the previous prototype, Platform 3.0 showcases a more seamless integration of the cameras and sensors into the design. In short, the sedan no longer looks like a regular car with all sorts of items attached to it. More importantly, it eliminates the "spinning bucket" LIDAR sensor on the roof.

Redesigned with help from CALTY Design Research and Toyota’s Research and Development center, Platform 3.0 looks like a normal vehicle for the most part. The LIDAR unit on the roof sits significantly lower with some of its design integrated into the sunroof compartment. The short-range sensors on the fenders and bumper are also smaller and don’t alter the car’s production design significantly. What’s more, they probably don’t interfere with aerodynamics that much.

Cabin Layout

  • Same layout as production model
  • Fully autonomous Chauffeur version
  • Dual cockpit Guardian variant
2018 Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 Autonomous Car
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Platform 3.0 will be built in two cabin configurations: Chauffeur and Guardian

Toyota didn’t have much to say about the cabin and there aren’t any photos to run by, but it’s safe to assume that there aren’t any major changes to talk about. In terms of design and layout that is, as an autonomous system adds quite a bit of new tech under the skin. But Toyota did say that Platform 3.0 will be built in two cabin configurations. There will be a fully autonomous Chauffeur version with just one steering wheel and a dual cockpit model called Guardian.

The latter is based on the dual cockpit control layout that TRI debuted last summer and will be used to test effective methods to transfer vehicle control between the human test driver and the automated system while maintaining a safety driver as a backup. Toyota says that both Guardian and Chauffeur test vehicles use the same technology stack of sensors and cameras, as well as similar software.

Drivetrain

2018 Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 Autonomous Car Exterior
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While the general aim is to pair autonomous driving systems with electric drivetrains, Platform 3.0 still uses the powertrain of the donor vehicle. The previous LS 600hL sports a hybrid system that combined a 5.0-liter V-8 with an electric motor. Not exactly green, but it’s more powerful than most electric cars out there, generating a solid 439 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. The sprint to 60 mph takes around 6.3 seconds, while top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. Sure, these figures don’t really matter since this isn’t a production car, but is an autonomous system capable of handling that much power?

Autonomous Tech

  • New LIDAR system
  • Roof sensors with 200-meter range
  • 360-degree perimeter
  • High-resolution scanning heads
2018 Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 Autonomous Car Exterior
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The heart of the autonomous system lies in the LIDAR sensors place on the roof and on the body panels

So what makes this luxury sedan autonomous? The heart of the autonomous system lies in the LIDAR sensors place on the roof and on the body panels. Short for Light Detection and Ranging, LIDAR is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating that target with a pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. The technology was commonly used to make high-resolution maps, with applications in geodesy, geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, and seismology (among other uses), but recently it has been modified for control and navigation functions for autonomous cars.

The Platform 3.0 isn’t the first Toyota to use LIDAR, but unlike its predecessor, it has the ability to "see" farther in every direction thanks to the four long-range LIDAR sensors on the roof. Manufactured by Luminar, a California-based startup company, the roof sensors have a 200-meter (656-foot) range around a 360-degree perimeter. Toyota says the Platform 3.0 is "one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road," which is true given that other LIDAR sensors, particularly those made by Velodyne, have a range of up to 120 meters (about 394 feet).

The new system also uses four high-resolution scanning heads, which precisely detect objects in the environment

The new system also uses four high-resolution scanning heads, which precisely detect objects in the environment including "notoriously difficult-to-see dark objects." In addition to the long-range sensors on the roof, the sedan has shorter-range LIDAR sensors on all four sides. One is placed in each front quarter panel and one each on the front and rear bumpers. These sensors can detect low-level and smaller objects near the car like children and debris on the road.

The more powerful sensors should make the autonomous driving system a lot more precise and help avoid errors and even accidents.

Conclusion

2018 Toyota Research Institute Platform 3.0 Autonomous Car Exterior
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It’s difficult to draw a conclusion without a proper demonstration of the upgraded car, and we’re still a few years away from being able to buy a production model, but Platform 3.0 is proof that autonomous technology is evolving fast. We were barely talking about it five years ago, and several companies already have functional prototypes. Toyota’s new LIDAR sensors should make autonomous cars safer and could enable automakers to roll out production models sooner than planned. 2021 is three years away, but we may see near-production test cars on the road by the end of 2018.

  • Leave it
    • * Old donor car
    • * Still quite a few issues to fix

References

Lexus LS

2018 Lexus LS 500h High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2018 Lexus LS Hybrid.

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Read more CES news.

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Read more Toyota news.

Press release

Toyota Research Institute (TRI) will show its next-generation automated driving research vehicle, Platform 3.0, at CES® next week in Las Vegas. The new platform, which is built on a Lexus LS 600hL, combines greater technological capabilities with new harmonized styling that integrates the automated vehicle technology into the LS model’s design. It will be on display in Toyota’s CES® exhibit in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center beginning Tues., Jan. 9.

“Our team has once again rapidly advanced our automated vehicle research capabilities,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, TRI CEO and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) Fellow. “To elevate our test platform to a new level, we tapped Toyota’s design and engineering expertise to create an all-new test platform that has the potential to be a benchmark in function and style.”

TRI approached development of a new research platform with three core principles: (1) Elevate perception capabilities to be an industry pacesetter among automated vehicles; (2) Blend the sensing equipment into the vehicle design with a distinct appearance that is sleek and elegant; (3) Package the automated vehicle technology in a manner that is easy to reproduce for building a fleet at scale.

PERCEPTION TECHNOLOGY
Platform 3.0 represents maturing of TRI’s automated vehicle research. Experimentation has transitioned to narrowing in on a technology package with a more defined sensor configuration and level of performance that helps catapult proficiency in understanding the world around the car.

Platform 3.0 has a very sensor-rich package that makes it one of the most perceptive automated driving test cars on the road. The Luminar LIDAR system with 200-meter range, which had only tracked the forward direction on TRI’s previous test platform, now covers the vehicle’s complete 360-degree perimeter. This is enabled by four high-resolution LIDAR scanning heads, which precisely detect objects in the environment including notoriously difficult-to-see dark objects.

Shorter-range LIDAR sensors are positioned low on all four sides of the vehicle – one in each front quarter panel and one each on the front and rear bumpers. These can detect low-level and smaller objects near the car like children and debris in the roadway. The new platform remains flexible for incorporating future breakthrough technology as it becomes available.

DESIGN
TRI engaged the expertise of CALTY Design Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. and engineers at Toyota Motor North America Research and Development (TMNA R&D) to compact and conceal the sensors and cameras. They created a new rooftop weather and temperature proof panel, cleverly using available space in the sunroof compartment to minimize the overall height. Their ingenuity eliminates the look of equipment as bolt-on appendages and replaces the “spinning bucket” LIDAR sensor that has historically characterized autonomous test vehicles.

CALTY designed the confident image of the rooftop panel, defined as intelligent minimalism, which is inspired by off-road motorcycle helmets. The forward area has a crisp technical look that becomes more fluid and aerodynamic toward the rear of the car, unifying with the contour lines of the LS. The panel is embellished with chrome trim that runs along the side where it meets the roofline.

“Automotive designers’ roles have been pivoting toward thinking deeper and greater on how to design and apply automated driving technology for drivers and passengers,” said Scott Roller, Senior Lead Designer at CALTY Design Research who worked on the project. “It’s exciting to integrate the components in harmony with the car’s design.”

The vehicle’s computational architecture for operating the automated vehicle components, which previously consumed nearly all trunk space, has also been consolidated. The electronics infrastructure and wiring in condensed into a small box exquisitely adorned with an LED-lit TRI logo.

PRODUCTION
Production of Platform 3.0 vehicles begins this spring. The Prototype Development Center at TMNA R&D headquarters in York Township, Michigan, which has expertise in low volume, specialized production, will create Platform 3.0 cars from stock Lexus LS models.

Production volume is intentionally low to allow for continued flexibility given the quickness with which TRI has progressed in updating its test platform. There have been three major updates, including two new generation test models, in less than a year, and TRI anticipates continued rapid developments.

A share of the new test vehicles will be assembled with the dual cockpit control layout that TRI debuted last summer. This arrangement is for testing TRI’s Guardian approach to automated driving, experimenting with effective methods to transfer vehicle control between the human test driver and the automated system while maintaining a safety driver as a backup. Single cockpit vehicles, like the one on display at CES, are used to test Chauffeur, which is TRI’s approach to full vehicle automation.

Both Guardian and Chauffeur test vehicles use the same technology stack of sensors and cameras and similar software.

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