Autonomous cars aren't nearly as clever as you think, says Toyota

Head of Toyota's new billion-dollar R&D center delivers a reality check

The head of Toyota's billion-dollar U.S. artificial intelligence research center delivered a reality check on Friday for anyone over-enamored by autonomous car technology: the cars aren't as clever as you think.

"I want to help the press and the public understand that when they see a car that does not have a human being behind the wheel and it seems to be driving, that the car is not as intelligent as a human being behind the wheel, even though it seems it might be," he said.

He was speaking in Tokyo at the announcement of the Silicon Valley center. Toyota will open it in January 2016 to drive artificial intelligence and robotics research, both for autonomous vehicles and other projects.

20151106 01 17 Toyota Motor

Gill Pratt (left), executive technical advisor at Toyota, and Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, speak during a Tokyo news conference on Nov. 6, 2015.

Pratt explained what researchers already know but perhaps others don't: Autonomous cars look great in controlled environments but soon fail when faced with tasks that human drivers find simple.

Drivers, for example, can pretty much get behind the wheel of a car and drive it wherever it may be, he said. Autonomous vehicles use GPS and laser imaging sensors to figure out where they are by matching data against a complex map that goes beyond simple roads and includes details down to lane markings.

The cars rely on all that data to drive, so they quickly hit problems in areas that haven't been mapped in advance.

"So when you see a lot of demonstrations of autonomous vehicles, it is very easy to be fooled into thinking the car is more intelligent than it is when really the car is using all of this superhuman information to accomplish its goal looking like it has the intelligence of a person, but it really doesn’t," he said.

A truly intelligent self-driving car needs artificial intelligence that can figure out where it is even if it has no map or GPS, and manage to navigate highways and follow routes even if there are diversions or changing in lane markings, he said.

Google self driving car Martyn Williams

A Google self-driving navigates streets near the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, on June 29, 2015.

Pratt was speaking in response to a question about how Toyota would challenge work already being undertaken by Google, Apple and others into autonomous car technology.

His point wasn't to denigrate the work being done by those competitors, but to remind his audience that all companies are still at the starting line of what could be decades of research into a truly autonomous self-driving car that can match humans.

"Questions like this assume we are near the end of the race," he said. "The truth is, we’re only at the beginning."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?