Toyota unveils pair of precrash safety systems
SUSANO, Japan -- Toyota is rolling out two precrash safety systems that it says will help prevent high-speed collisions and pedal-misapplication accidents.
The technology will debut soon in a high-end Toyota-brand sedan, the company says. The features then are expected to trickle down to mid-sized and compact cars in two to three years, said Seigo Kuzumaki, Toyota's assistant chief safety technology officer.
The new technologies are not a direct response to the unintended acceleration recalls Toyota conducted in 2009-10, executives said. The systems have been in development for years and are part of a broader trend of carmakers trying to differentiate themselves with high-tech safety gear.
In July, Toyota created what it calls a business reform committee with 50 dedicated engineers to rush those and other active safety technologies to market, said Yoshiaki Matsuo, project general manager of the committee.
"This area is becoming very competitive, and we wanted to speed up the development of these technologies," he said. Among other projects, the group is working on better vehicle stability control systems.
The first technology is a brake-assist feature that helps a driver avoid rear-ending the car in front at high speeds. It uses millimeter-wave radar to detect the risk of a collision.
When it senses danger, it warns the driver with sound and display alerts. But the added help comes in the form of a brake booster that can automatically double the amount of braking force applied by the driver to ensure that the car stops in time.
The feature enables deceleration to a full stop from 60 kilometers an hour, or 37 mph. If the driver is going faster than that, it cannot slow the car enough to avoid impact. But coming to a full stop isn't always necessary.
Say you're going 75 mph when you round a curve and suddenly come up on another car going 50 mph. The system will slow you to 38 mph. And assuming the car in front of you is still going 50, you will avoid impact.
But if the car in front is going 30, the system will mitigate, but not prevent, the crash. And if you come around that curve at 75 mph and find a car stalled in your lane 20 feet ahead, you're still going to crash.
Toyota says the feature will have broad applications because more than 90 percent of rear-end collisions occur when the speed difference between cars is within 37 mph.
A key element of the precrash system is its ability to amplify the driver's braking power to compensate for weak pedal pressure -- such as when the pedal is applied too late or when the driver is too panicked to judge the needed pressure properly.
During a demonstration at Toyota's Higashifuji technical center here, the test car initially braked slowly under the driver's initiative. But it jolted to a stop in a two-step shudder when the system kicked in, first with added braking and then with definitive stopping power.
The second new safety system combats parking collisions in which drivers accidentally back into a wall or pole when they intend to go forward. It also mitigates sudden acceleration when a panicked driver throws the car into drive after backing into something.
Toyota said that in Japan alone, about 7,000 accidents occur every year because of such pedal misapplication, especially in cramped parking lots.
The technology employs sonar to detect whether a car is backing up too rapidly toward an obstacle. If so, it sounds an alarm and automatically applies the brakes.
The dovetail feature slows the vehicle when the gearshift is mistakenly shifted while the accelerator pedal is applied or when abnormal shifting is detected.
During another demonstration, the car backed over a pylon spurring a rattled driver to overcompensate for the error by flipping it into drive while stomping on the pedal.
Under normal conditions, the car would go racing forward running the risk of ramming into something again, triggering what one Toyota engineer called a "pingpong ball" chain collision. But with the new technology, forward acceleration is slowed to restore control.
Toyota declined to say what car will first get the technologies. It said only that it would be a soon-to-be launched Toyota-brand sedan. In demonstrations and in Toyota's slide presentation, the systems were exhibited in the Crown, a top-tier Japan-market sedan. A redesigned Crown is expected as early as next year.
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