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Toyota to Offer Rides in Its Level 4 Autonomous Car

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Full-on driving autonomy isn’t quite here yet, but it’s close. Toyota has announced it will make its Platform 4 automated driving test vehicle available for public demonstration next summer, giving people the opportunity to take rides in a nearly fully autonomous car.

The P4 experience will take place in Tokyo’s Odaiba district, which Toyota picked out for its ability to really challenge its automated driving technology. It features heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic, diverse road infrastructure, and tall glass buildings (reflections can be tricky for sensors), making for an overall complex environment.

“By challenging ourselves to successfully operate autonomously in Odaiba, we have set a high bar that requires us to rapidly expand the capabilities of our technology in a short amount of time,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute.

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TRI has been testing the P4 test vehicle at its closed-course test facility in Ottawa Lake, Michigan, where it has been replicating the most challenging driving scenarios a car is likely to encounter in Odaiba as it seeks to meet SAE Level 4 autonomous driving standards.

As per SAE International standards, there are six levels of driving automation ranging from Level 0 to Level 5. The first three levels cover driver support features that nonetheless require drivers to be actively engaged in driving. After that is Level 3 automation, which is mostly autonomous but may still request that you take over the wheel in some situations, such as traffic jams. At SAE Level 4, a driving system never needs to ask you to take over driving but may still have some limitations, while Level 5 automation is the end-game goal that most automakers are currently trying to reach.

For now, Level 4 is as good as it gets. Toyota has already announced it will use Level 4-capable shuttles to ferry athletes and staff within the Olympic village during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, though its shuttle is not capable of very high speeds.

Achieving Level 4 autonomy in a proper car, however — the P4 is based on the fifth-generation Lexus LS sedan — will be a major step toward fully-functioning Level 5 autonomy.

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