Toyota Autonomous Vehicles Will Soon Take Part in Hazardous Driving Tests

The automaker will put its cars to the test with scenarios too extreme to perform on the road.

Toyota

Last month, Toyota unveiled its new autonomous driving platform, as well as a car equipped with two steering wheels that will be used to test it. Now the automaker has announced where testing will take place.

Toyota will use the GoMentum Station, a dedicated autonomous car testing facility located on the site of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, in Concord, California. Toyota says it will use the 5,000-acre facility to see how self-driving cars perform in "hazardous driving scenarios." 

The automaker's latest autonomous-driving system, called "Platform 2.1" includes two driving modes. "Guardian" leaves a human driver in control, but keeps the autonomous system operating in the background, allowing the car to take over in emergency situations. "Chauffeur" gives the car complete control, turning all humans onboard into passengers.

Because these systems involve different levels of interaction between human and machine, they introduce even more variables than the typical autonomous-car test. While Toyota also plans to conduct tests on public roads, GoMentum Station's closed environment will allow it to see how the system responds in what the automaker calls "extreme" events that can't be undertaken safely on the street.

Unlike other automakers, Toyota seems committed to keeping human drivers in the loop, even in an age of autonomous cars. The company wants to start testing self-driving cars that use artificial intelligence to "talk" to human drivers around 2020, turning autonomous vehicles into co-pilots rather than machine overlords.

It's an appealing idea that could strike a balance between the potential safety benefits of autonomy and the desire for human drivers to stay in control. But it remains to be seen whether the technology can deliver on that promise.