Toyota tests 'talking' cars
FOCUSED ON TECHNOLOGY: Toyota is working on a system that allows cars to communicate with each other to avoid collisions.
Author: Yuri Kageyama
Toyota has joined the ranks of manufacturers testing car safety systems that allow vehicles to communicate with each other.
The cars at the intelligent transport system site receive information from sensors and transmitters installed on the streets to minimise the risk of accidents in situations such as missing a red traffic light, cars advancing from blind spots and pedestrians crossing the street.
The system’s warning indicators include: a beeping sound in the car and an image of a person popping up on a screen in front of the driver when the presence of a pedestrian is triggered, a picture of an arrow popping up to indicate an approaching car at an intersection and an electronic voice saying, "It's a red light," if the driver was about to ignore a red light.
Toyota officials said the smart-car technology it is developing will be tested on some Japanese roads starting in 2014. Toyota claims the technology will be effective because half of car accidents happen at intersections.
Toyota also showed a new feature that helps the driver brake harder to prevent bumping into the vehicle in front. Toyota officials said drivers often fail to push hard on their brakes in such situations because they get into a panic.
Toyota said the technology will be available "soon," without giving a date, and hinted it will be offered for Lexus luxury models. Luxury models already offer similar safety features such as automatic braking. Technology involving precise sensors remains expensive, sometimes costing as much as a cheaper Toyota car.
The automaker also developed sonar sensors that help drivers avoid crashing in parking lots. One system even knows when the driver pushes on the accelerator by mistake instead of the brakes, and will stop automatically.
Rear-end collisions make up 34% of car accidents in Japan, comprising the biggest category, followed by head-on collisions at 27%.
Cars that stop and go on their own, avoiding accidents, are not pure science fiction, experts say.
Alberto Broggi, professor at the University of Parma and an expert on intelligent transportation systems, said the idea of the accident-free cars is "very hot", and probably within reach on some roads within several years.
"I'm sure we will arrive to such a technology even if I don't know when exactly," he said.