Toyota Will Bring Self-Driving Cars to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

But production versions are still several years away.

Toyota

Following a report that Hyundai will use the 2018 Winter Olympics in its home country of South Korea to show off its autonomous vehicles, it appears Toyota will do the same thing two years later: Japan's largest automaker will demonstrate self-driving cars at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. 

That's what Ken Koibuchi, Toyota executive general manager for autonomous driving, told Automotive News during a recent media event for the 2018 Lexus LS. Thanks to their high-profile nature, Toyota reportedly sees the Tokyo Olympics as a potential turning point in public awareness of self-driving cars.

While Hyundai believes the Winter Olympic venue in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will prove challenging to self-driving cars, Toyota's Koibuchi thinks Tokyo could provide the best-case scenario. While most of the city is a tangled web of narrow streets, Toyota plans to conduct autonomous car demonstrations at the Odaiba waterfront, where most of the Olympic venues will be located. A newer development built on reclaimed land, Odaiba features straight, wide streets and light traffic. That should make things easier for Toyota's prototype self-driving cars.

Toyota prefers not to use the term "autonomous," Koibuchi told Automotive News, because it may instill drivers with a false sense of confidence. Instead, the automaker prefers to call its cars "automated." Toyota is also somewhat less aggressive about deploying autonomous-driving tech. It views cars as partners for human drivers, not replacements, and plans to focus on people who can't drive by themselves, such as the elderly and disabled.

Self-driving cars may be ready for brief moment in the spotlight, but Koibuchi does not think they are ready for production just yet. He said Toyota will have to work on commercializing lidar for production cars, and high-quality digital maps will have to be created to guide self-driving cars.

The Japanese government is coordinating a program to map all of the country's roads, but so far only a portion of the highway network has been charted. Koibuchi said the entire highway network may be mapped in time for the Olympics, but that mapping surface streets may be more complicated.