Through the history of the automobile, some of the most advanced automotive technologies have been conceived and developed in competition – take aerodynamics for example. Moreover, motorsport is the ultimate proving ground, so it’s perfect for testing components to the max in the most extreme conditions.
While racing involves going around a smooth racetrack that essentially stays the same lap-after-lap, rallying is a different kettle of fish completely. Rallying hundreds of kilometres through the mountains, or desert, or snow, each throws up unique challenges. Needless to say, it’s very unpredictable.
Well, next year, Toyota is returning to the rough and tumble world of rallying after a hiatus of 17 years. The Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC team has tied up with Microsoft to support the team in its quest to collect and analyse vital data from the rally stages. And it’s this unpredictable nature of rallying that Toyota has decided to use to develop their future autonomous car technology.
The data collected from special stages around the world will not only help the team’s competitiveness, but it’ll also be sent to the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) where it’ll be used to improve artificial intelligence for automobiles – in an effort to conquer autonomous driving technology.
Toyota’s vision for autonomous driving includes two different applications – one is what they call ‘Chauffer Mode,’ which allows the car to be driven in complete autonomy. Toyota claims this application has the potential to mobilise people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get around – such as senior citizens or individuals with special needs. The second application is ‘Guardian Mode,’ which is, essentially, a high-level driver assist system – a further evolution of the current safety technology that can take over the car in certain circumstances and support the driver when required.
To accomplish this, Toyota claims that an estimated length of 14.2 billion kilometres needs to be covered during the testing, research and development of the technology in the real world and during simulation. Meanwhile, the knowledge gathered from the World Rally Championship will accelerate this process – quite literally!