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Tokyo Motor Show 2015: Autonomous by 2020

05 November 2015 Jeremy Carlson

In the two years since the previous event, the Tokyo Motor Show-known for its concept cars-has shifted ever so slightly closer to the realities of automotive production. Concepts are still firmly in focus in Tokyo, but many are now showing features that will actually make their way into production vehicles in the near future. While design is still a central pillar of the concept world, the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show put autonomous driving technology in the spotlight.

There's good reason for the Japanese auto industry to highlight these new technologies. First, industry events in Europe and the US have taken on autonomous driving as a core theme, and the auto industry in those areas have been the ones defining that agenda. Japan has a wealth of experience in robotics and is developing the same technologies, but as the context shifts from the laboratory to the public domain, the country has been slow to join the conversation and make its plans and intentions known.

Second, the Olympics are a point of national pride for the host country, and Japan intends to showcase its strengths on that global stage-moving past gimmicky robot companions into technology with much clearer real-world application and benefit. Given the biennial cadence of Asia's premier auto show and the realities of manufacturing and production, every event will be an incredibly important snapshot of the progress of the country's automotive and transportation industries towards new future mobility.

At once proactive and reactive, the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show has provided much needed illumination on the future of the domestic market and may even turn out to be a watershed moment for the Japanese auto industry as well.


There are two especially good examples of this in Nissan and Subaru. Both introduced a roadmap for the deployment of their automated driving systems in addition to specific details on the underlying technologies-and, of course, it wouldn't be Tokyo if there wasn't an actual concept car that brings it all together in a flashy package.

Nissan certainly grabbed the most headlines with the IDS "Intelligent Driving System" Concept. Combining advanced vehicle control and safety technologies with artificial intelligence, the IDS Concept maintains agile acceleration and cornering that learns from the user's typical driving style to make the Piloted Driving feel less foreign. The IDS Concept also provides some insight into Nissan's views on the human-machine interface (HMI) in autonomous driving systems: a retracting steering wheel, head-up display and external-facing "Intention Indicator" communicates with both the driver and pedestrians.

Nissan also provided very specific details about the enabling sensors and the company's plans to bring them to market. The sensor portfolio is extensive and arguably excessive for the initial functionality advertised in Piloted Drive 1.0, but it provides a platform upon which Nissan can innovate and iterate.

Four laser scanners positioned centrally on the front, rear and sides are supported by an "8-way 360-degree view camera system" with four cameras positioned on the front corners of the roof plus four for the Around View Monitoring system already common on Nissan vehicles today. A front-facing trifocal camera, long-range radar and four corner radar complete the collection.

The 2016 introduction of Piloted Driving 1.0 brings traffic jam assist functionality (first introduced by Daimler in 2013) while the 2.0 version in 2018 "hopes" to implement high-speed autopilot with automated lane changing (first introduced to market by Tesla in October 2015). While these two deployments match functionality available today, the 2020 milestone aims to allow vehicles to manage city and urban driving and intersections which is the next great challenge for the world's automotive engineers and one which every OEM and supplier is currently working on.

In the grand scheme of the industry, being a year or three behind first market introduction for such complex technologies is a perfectly respectable timeline. Even if these milestones and CEO Carlos Ghosn's 2020 goal slip a year or two into the future, a clear roadmap for deployment and further development is a significant achievement in and of itself.


While Ghosn's 2020 ambition put his company in the autonomous conversation in 2013, Subaru used Tokyo to distinguish itself and share its own roadmap for new technology to aid drivers. The VIZIV Future Concept previewed not only future design but also the next generation of Subaru's well-received EyeSight stereo camera platform.

After updates in 2010 and 2014, the next EyeSight combines the forward-facing stereo camera with radar sensing in all directions, allowing the vehicle to monitor traffic and assess risks all around it. The system is further augmented by GPS and map data to provide location information and proactive preparation of the vehicle and powertrain as seen on previous VIZIV concepts. Subaru also previewed a driver-facing camera to monitor alertness.

Subaru has found its stereo camera platform very capable, but to extend the functionality into automated driving applications, sensor fusion is practically a requirement. Going beyond the technology details, Subaru also laid out its plans for market introduction. The new EyeSight will bring traffic jam assist functionality at low speeds in 2017 while a 2020 update aims to enable high-speed autopilot features; automated lane changes were not mentioned specifically but the addition of radar should allow Subaru to develop the feature.

Toyota & Honda

Prior to Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota detailed its Highway Teammate self-driving vehicle, a modified Lexus GS that enables automated driving on highways. This includes merging with traffic and exiting highways, maintaining or changing lanes, and maintaining inter-vehicle distance.

While Toyota had previously mentioned its intent to bring a slightly narrower function to market in 2016-17 under the name Automated Highway Drive Assist, the Highway Teammate vehicle does include features in development from its competitors. The Highway Teammate technology is planned for production around 2020, and while more specific milestones weren't discussed, the Lexus LF-FC flagship concept did advertise the functionality.

Honda also mentioned a similar 2020 timeline for its autonomous car, according to reports, but no details were provided and the company's focus in Tokyo was on the new Clarity FCV fuel cell vehicle due to launch in March 2016. Honda Chairman Fumihiko Ike however has described pressure from the Japanese government to bring self-driving features to the 2020 Olympics stage, and IHS will be looking for firm plans from Honda Motor Company as its domestic competition lays out their own near-term plans.


The Japanese supply chain was also present in Tokyo with a number of interesting announcements as they develop the component systems and software to aid automakers in their ambitious plans.

Pioneer held several exhibits detailing its portfolio. A conceptual "In-Vehicle Context Awareness" mockup aims to anticipate upcoming events to provide drivers with relevant information at the right time. A 3D-LIDAR sensor was presented but few details provided as the company continues to explore development. A newly developed augmented reality head-up display also improved upon the 2012 version.

Mitsubishi Electric announced its technology to detect driver inattention and other cognitive distractions when the vehicle is traveling straight, leveraging advances in machine learning. The system analyzes and compares current time series data to 'normal driving' data-including vehicle information such as steering input and biometric information such as heart rate and facial orientation-to detect and warn drivers about potentially dangerous signals that portend driver distraction.

Denso described its role in making the new Toyota Prius a safer vehicle through the supply of Toyota Safety Sense P. Using a long-range millimeter wave radar and mono camera, the new package now fuses data from both sensors together for quicker and more accurate detection. The sensors enable autonomous emergency braking for vehicles and pedestrians, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic high beam control. Toyota Safety Sense P will be widely available from Toyota and Lexus, and Denso will supply each model.

Finally, Toyoda Gosei announced a new steering wheel that incorporates haptic vibration to provide tactile safety alerts to drivers. The steering wheel will feature in the new Lexus RX and will likely become an important part of the safety system HMI in more Toyota and Lexus models over time.

2020 Outlook

The 2015 Tokyo Motor Show did indeed provide some much needed clarity from the domestic auto industry. For several years, companies and governments from European and North America countries have advanced the conversation surrounding vehicle automation and autonomous driving, and Japan was slowly being left behind.

Recently however, comments from the industry have become more common. While the automotive conversation is incredibly important to broad adoption of new technologies, it is often eclipsed by the news of technology companies such as Google, Uber and Apple jumping into the mobility game. Something similar has occurred in Japan with Tokyo-based Robot Taxi bringing a small test fleet of driverless taxis to one region by the end of next March and "thousands" on the road for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

In October, the Japanese government became more vocal as well-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke in favor of self-driving cars, saying "I can tell you that in 2020 Tokyo, self-driving cars will be running around". The pressure from the government is real, and it is an encouraging sign that regulations will not stand in the way of bringing such technology to market, as is the risk in other regions of the world.

Ultimately, however, it is the industry-automotive and new mobility companies alike-that will make this happen. While concept cars and broad descriptions of features make for nice press conferences, it is specific roadmaps and milestones that are the most encouraging signal yet that the Japanese automotive industry is beginning to put decades of academic and laboratory research to work in the real world and to compete head-on with its international competition in the newest frontier of automotive technology.

By Jeremy Carlson, Senior Analyst, IHS Automotive


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