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Autonomous Vehicles Toyota Sienna autonomous car

Published on August 28th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley


Toyota Invests $500 Million In Uber As Companies Plan Autono-MaaS Platform

August 28th, 2018 by  

Toyota will invest $500 million in Uber as the two companies combine their resources to develop autonomous cars that will be used in Uber’s ride hailing service. According to Tech Crunch, the vehicles of choice will be Toyota Sienna minivans — ordinary vehicles with 6 cylinder internal combustion engines.

Toyota Sienna autonomous car

That’s a curious choice. For the past decade, those of us following the world of self-driving automobiles have assumed such cars would be electric or at least plug-in hybrids like the Chrysler Pacifica vans or Jaguar I-PACE electric SUVs Waymo is committed to. Using conventional piston-powered vehicles seems an odd choice for a service that is intended to help reduce pollution in urban areas in addition to other advantages.

The cars will be fitted with Uber’s own self-driving system as well as a backup autonomous system developed by Toyota Research Institute called Guardian. The combination will result in a platform the companies call Autono-MaaS, which stands for “autonomous-mobility as a service.” TRI has been working on its own self driving systems since 2017 using Lidar components sourced from Silicon Valley startup Luminar.

Until now, Toyota’s objective was to create fully autonomous cars aimed at serving older passengers and those with disabilities. It was also working on technology that would allow regular production cars to switch back and forth between full autonomous and driver assistance modes. Toyota, like many of the world’s major car makers, will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the electric car era as it continues to push is conventional products to meet unconventional uses.

It is working on an electric urban shuttle called e-Palette that would feature interactive advertising on its flanks as it negotiates cities. The e-Palette concept is the subject of ongoing tests to determine its ability to deliver products for Amazon and Pizza Hut. It is also being studied by ride sharing service Didi Chuxing.

“Uber’s automated driving system and Toyota’s guardian system will independently monitor the vehicle environment and real-time situation, enhancing overall vehicle safety for both the automated driver and the vehicle,” says Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute.

Uber has taken its lumps this year, especially after one of its test vehicles ran down a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year. Selecting Toyota, which has a reputation for safety, may be a smart move for Uber as its struggles to repair its image. “Uber’s advanced technology and Toyota’s commitment to safety and its renowned manufacturing prowess make this partnership a natural fit,” says Dara Khosrowshahi, its new CEO. “I look forward to seeing what our teams accomplish together.”

This news would be a lot more exciting if it included an electric car component. Why invest all that money in vehicles that will probably be limited to service in North America? If Uber and Toyota think China, Paris, London, and most of the world’s most populous cities are perishing to add more gasoline-powered vehicles to their already congested roadways, they are making a gross miscalculation. 


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

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