The auto industry has treaded lightly after a self-driving Uber fatally struck a pedestrian in Arizona. Toyota, for its part, hasn’t conducted autonomous driving tests since, and now the automaker’s looking to work out more complicated autonomous driving scenarios away from the public in a new private facility set to be constructed in Michigan.
The Toyota Research Institute, the automaker’s autonomous driving-focused unit, said Thursday that it’s constructing a 60-acre closed-course test facility in Ottawa Lake, Michigan, where it’ll have exclusive access to replicate demanding so-called “edge case” driving scenarios—ones Toyota said are too dangerous to test on public roads.
What sort of edge cases isn’t entirely clear, but Toyota gave a hint in a news release announcing the project, saying the facility will include “congested” urban environments, a four-lane divided highway with high-speed entrances and exit ramps, and “slick” surfaces to test on.
In a private environment, Toyota thinks it’ll have more “flexibility” to work out a number of driving scenarios that can aid the development of a safe, fully-autonomous car.
But that raises one of the most awkward, unsettling questions about autonomous driving? Can you actually perfect the technology in a closed environment? Testing these cars in the public has already proved fatal, but is it possible to perfect these systems without on-road situations? That’s the problem automakers and developers have to grapple with: Do these cars need to be deployed without handling tests in real-world environments—on public roads?
Toyota said construction permits were filed this week to build out the 60-acre site in Ottawa Lake, and the facility will be constructed inside the current location’s 1.75-mile oval test track (seen above). If all goes according to plan, Toyota says the site will be operational this October.