It’s easy to program an autonomous car for an ideal world, where no one makes a mistake and other cars do exactly what you expect of them, but that’s not how real life works. According to Autocar, Toyota found the perfect lab of unexpected calamities for its autonomous technology: the World Rally Championship.
Rally—the art of flinging a car down a goat path known as a “stage road” as fast as possible—is still a sport that belongs to a human driver, and a human codriver who helps the driver navigate each turn and hazard of the stage. Everything from traffic to animals to jumps to fans to car-flipping wash-outs can appear on stage to ruin a team’s day.
Toyota wants to study how an autonomous driving program would handle these obstacles by putting sensors on the car.
Toyota Motorsport boss Koei Saga explained to Autocar that much of their goal is to train Toyota’s autonomous technology sensors to recognize problems faster:
Right now the biggest technical difficulty [for autonomous driving] is that on the road you cannot expect everything. So when somebody suddenly drives directly in front of you or if the road is quite crowded or if some people are crossing the road without checking whether a car is coming, most of the sensors that we have right now cannot react that fast. This is one major challenge we are dealing with.
We also put our sensors on to our rally cars and they can, for example, predict a rock that is in the road in front of the car. When the sensors become capable of dealing with those obstacles at the speed of a rally car, we can enhance the level of sensor technology as a whole.
Most humans can’t even react as quickly as a WRC driver, so using those cars blasting down tiny roads at ridiculous speeds should provide plenty of data.
Toyota has a partnership with Microsoft to collaborate on analyzing data pulled from the WRC car, per Autocar. Microsoft is also a partner in the Toyota Research Institute, which is the branch where Toyota is researching autonomous driving technology.
Can we also make autonomous cars drive as fast as the WRC drivers? I’ve got other stuff to do than sit in a car, man. Thanks in advance.