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2014-07-24 11:10

TOYOTA'S SMART CAR? The Japanese automaker is developing technology to encourage safe driving with its latest generation of the driver awareness research vehicle known as Darv. Image: Newspress / Ford

Not so many years ago there was little in a car to draw a driver’s attention away from the road beyond the windows, mirrors and speedometer.

Today, even a regular mid-market car can feature a plethora of displays, controls and meters, all vying for attention and increasing the risk of driver distraction.

Toyota says it is researching how best to keep the driver focused on the road without sacrificing any of the benefits offered by sophisticated information systems, working with Microsoft and Infosys as its partners in Darv 1.5, the latest generation of the automaker's "driver awareness" research vehicle.


Think of a car that can work like a tablet, recognising you and automatically presenting an information menu on its side window as you approach. Touch and swipe the glass and you are up to speed on your route, your personal schedule, weather conditions and where to stop for fuel, even before you're behind the wheel.

This means that, once on your way, there will be fewer issues needing your attention other than the road ahead and traffic conditions around you.

These functions were pioneered by Toyota in its original Darv, revealed at the 2013 Los Angeles auto show. Now the automaker has taken the concept further with Darv 1.5, engineered at the company’s collaborative safety research centre in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and previewed recently at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

Darv 1.5 is a fully functioning car, says Toyota, that provides a working platform to study the dynamics of driver distraction. A development of the original MPV-based Darv, it is equipped with Microsoft’s Surface tablet and Kinect motion-sensing technologies and custom-designed Infosys biometric software to help everybody on board and the car itself to work together as a team to achieve safer driving.


New features include a driver “lock-in” function that identifies who is at the wheel by tracking their body frame and automatically enabling or disabling control features according to who using the control panel. Advances have also been made in determining how wearable devices, such as smart watches, might be used to control vehicle functions. As a working car, Darv 1.5 can also measure driving behaviour and produce a “score” based on safe-driving choices.

Toyota also used the festival for the US debut of its production-ready Fuel Cell sedan. Osamu Nagata, president and CEO of Toyota Motor engineering and manufacturing North America, said:

“Our society is on the cusp of a revolution in personal mobility. Slowly but surely new technologies are changing how we think about automobiles and transportation, from intelligent automated systems that team up with drivers to improve safety, to zero-emissions vehicles that emit nothing but water vapour.

“These technologies will help to save lives, improve the environment, create jobs and help us to maintain technical leadership in a field that is an important contributor to economic growth.”
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