Toyota has unveiled a bizarre new automated safety system test car – one that drifts. The Japanese manufacturer has built a GR Supra that can balance the controls in ways far beyond the abilities of current stability control systems, with the aim of creating a “superhuman” safety net for exceptional situations.
The systems will allow cars to perform evasive manoeuvres far beyond the skills of a normal driver, specifically in lower-grip conditions. Impressively, Toyota intends to make the software available to all car makers right off the bat, too, waiving its right to patent and sell it.
One of the facets being explored by the Toyota Research Institute is how to safely drift a car and bring it back into control without simply cutting the power and hoping for the best. The thinking is that, contrary to general public belief, drifting a car might sometimes be the best way to prevent a nasty accident. The new software will adapt brake-based torque vectoring ideas to drift, stabilise and safely slow a car, without the jerky and often unhelpfully aggressive interventions you get from existing systems.
Mapping professional drivers’ inputs in how they control a sliding car has allowed Toyota to build this prototype Supra to drift more or less on its own. The driver in the footage is there in case of any unexpected tech failure, but it’s not clear what throttle input he has.
Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, says the tech has an important role to play in reducing collisions on the road:
“Every day, there are deadly vehicle crashes that result from extreme situations where most drivers would need superhuman skills to avoid a collision. The reality is that every driver has vulnerabilities, and to avoid a crash, drivers often need to make manoeuvrers that are beyond their abilities.
“Through this project, TRI will learn from some of the most skilled drivers in the world to develop sophisticated control algorithms that amplify human driving abilities and keep people safe. This is the essence of the Toyota Guardian approach.”
Current statistics show that 40,000 people die every year on US roads alone. In the UK the most recent figure (2019) is 1748 people. The figure rises to around 1.25 million globally.
There’s currently no estimated timescale for when the drift tech will make it into safety systems of production cars, but when it arrives you can bet that road safety campaigners will never have been so conflicted.