Toyota ups funding for Collaborative Safety Research Center

  • 08-Sep-2014 10:25 EDT

Reflecting Toyota’s emphasis on human-in-the-loop safety, its DARV1.5 research vehicle uses Microsoft’s Surface and custom biometric software and algorithms to help driver and passengers and the vehicle work as a team to achieve safer driving.

Many companies attempt to maximize research for proprietary gain. The purpose of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) is a different thing altogether. CSRC collaborates with leading institutions across North America to help advance safer automobiles—and share the results. An initial $50 million, five-year commitment in 2011 established the CSRC. Since then, the center has researched active safety, driver distraction, and at-risk traffic populations. An additional $35 million announced by Toyota on Sept. 3, 2014, brings the total project to $85 million over 10 years.

Collaboration + sharing = better safety

“The three pillars of CSRC are research, data analysis, and sharing through outreach,” explained Chuck Gulash, Senior Executive Engineer for Toyota and Director of the CRSC, speaking at a safety seminar in Ypsilanti, MI, hosted by the company Sept 4. “The safety innovations developed benefit everyone on the road, whether or not you are driving a Toyota.” The center currently works with 17 collaborative partners, primarily universities or university affiliated research institutes as well as research hospitals (for biomedical purposes.)

However, he stressed its model is not exclusive to such institutions. “We are looking at opportunities with Tier 1’s [and other suppliers] that have not crystallized yet,” he said in a separate interview with SAE’s Automotive Engineering. He also made it clear that the research projects selected are not open-ended, ‘blue sky’ endeavors. A project proposal must be clear in its intent and timeline. He notes that the existing projects are scoped to complete between two and four years.

Projects and timelines

According to Gulash, projects are selected based on priorities either identified by Toyota or the government. A good example of the latter, he pointed to in the interview, was a research project on understanding driver distraction from the demands of a voice-command interface. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was not scheduled to fund work until 2014, so the CRSC collaborated with MIT’s AgeLab starting in 2011 “to fill what we thought was a significant gap,” said Gulash. They found in Phase I of the project that the mental demands of using an in-vehicle voice-command system were lower than expected, but—surprisingly—drivers took their eyes off the road even while engaging only with the device through spoken word. Their findings were provided to NHTSA to help inform future research and develop voluntary guidelines, according to him.

Other examples of the 34 projects to date range from developing a non-linear finite element model of a 10-year-old child in LS-DYNA format to developing physical models of pedestrians with human-like radar cross sections.

While the CSRC’s first phase of research will conclude in 2016, the new research in the next five-year phase will include

• Develop human-machine interface (HMI) guidelines for automated and connected vehicle systems

• Understand the optimal user skills to operate them safely

• Scope out the challenges posed by a U.S. vehicle fleet that will likely feature automated and connected vehicles combined with "traditional" vehicles on the same roads.

CSRC will begin looking at specific priorities for the new phase starting in September 2014. While Gulash said in the interview that the CSRC could not handle open calls, such as issuing Requests for Proposals, he does welcome inquiries from anyone with a practical but innovative idea they are willing to collaborate together to develop.

Toyota’s vision of automated safety

Expect research projects from the CSRC to align with Toyota’s approach toward advanced driving assistance systems. The company stresses cooperation among vehicle technologies, the traffic environment, and the driver to achieve "real-world safety," as described by Kristen Tabor, Vice President of the Technical Administration Planning Office at Toyota Technical Center speaking at the safety seminar. Why such an emphasis on including human behavior? “Human beings are the ultimate sensor fusion device,” she said. However, we have human limitations that advanced vehicle sensors can augment. These include extending vision farther, peering into darkness, or reacting quickly. “Cars can see things the human would never see and get them in the mode to create a safer drive,” she said.

That makes the HMI extremely important. Gulash predicts that improvements to the HMI pioneered by the CSRC will reach production by the end of this decade. He also noted that much of the data collected and analyzed would be used in future active safety algorithms such as lane departure warnings or avoiding pedestrians.

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