Aichi firm touts automated driving technology

Chunichi Shimbun

Aisin Seiki Co. is putting its automated driving technology to practical use by developing a system that can pull a vehicle safely to the side of a road if the driver becomes suddenly incapacitated.

There has been an increase in traffic accidents involving incapacitated drivers, including one in Osaka’s Umeda entertainment district last month in which a driver apparently lost consciousness before his vehicle plowed into pedestrians, killing two and injuring nine. The driver was among the dead.

The new device being developed by the Aichi-based company can help prevent large-scale accidents, it claims.

The company demonstrated the use of the “emergency roadside pullover” system in a Toyota Prius at a license center in Toyokoro, Hokkaido, on Feb. 27.

In the test drive, the driver pretends to lose consciousness by leaning forward while the car is running at 40 kph. The system immediately asks the driver in English, “Are you all right?”

The system takes over once it confirms the driver is not responding, steering the car to the left shoulder and applying the automatic brake. It only took three seconds to bring the car to a complete stop.

The prototype only provides automated voice input in English to help market the product abroad, but Japanese will be provided when it goes on sale domestically.

The system features a camera attached to the steering wheel and an infrared sensor that monitors the driver’s eyelids and the direction of the driver’s face to determine whether the driver is alert, so it can also be used to prevent accidents due to fatigue.

The company previously developed an emergency braking system that is triggered when the camera detects an abnormality in the driver’s posture. The system releases a warning in the event of a possible collision and stops the vehicle automatically.

This braking system, which has been included in some Toyota Lexus models since 2006, serves as the foundation of the latest emergency pullover system.

The male driver involved in the deadly accident in Umeda, Osaka, last month, was believed to have lost control of the car after suffering acute heart failure.

The number of such large-scale accidents has increased in recent years. In 2012, a car veered out of control in Kyoto’s Gion district after the driver suffered an epileptic seizure, causing 19 casualties. A similar accident in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood last year resulted in five casualties.

To apply the device for practical use, the company will have to first develop the automated driving technology to cover all city driving environments, as well as improve the technology that is used to determine the condition of the driver.

The first milestone is to implement the system for specific driving environments, such as highways, by 2020.

Aisin is calling on automakers in Japan and abroad to adopt its technology.

“I want to apply this system for practical use as soon as possible and create a society with zero traffic deaths,” said Aisin Vice President Naofumi Fujie.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 29.