YOKOHAMA — The Embedded Technology 2013 Conference opened here Wednesday with a keynote speech that was distinguished by what was left out.
Two items conspicuously absent from the speech by Shigeru Kuroyanagi, general manager of Toyota Motor Corp.'s vehicle control system infrastructure development division, were driverless cars and the Bookout v Toyota case, in which an Oklahoma jury found sudden acceleration in a Toyota Camry responsible for a wrongful death. Otherwise, his discussion of "evolving automotive electronics systems" gave the capacity audience a rather generic view on the global automotive market, fuel economy, safety issues, and advanced driver assistant system (ADAS).
After his keynote, Kuroyanagi was asked about the biggest challenge in rolling out an ADAS. He said automakers need to make sure consumers understand these systems are for offering drivers "assistance" -- and nothing more.
Does that mean Toyota doesn't believe in autonomous cars? Kuroyanagi was clearly skeptical.
I can't speak for Toyota. But personally, I have doubts. To achieve a goal of autonomous cars in 100%, you need a holy trinity of man, car, and traffic environment. All three need to work in harmony, and that's hard to accomplish 100%, especially when you need to drive a car under all weather and road conditions and you share a road with cars that are not autonomous.
When I asked him about the Oklahoma case, he stiffened up and changed his tone. "I absolutely have no comments."
During his talk, the Toyota executive discussed structural changes in the automotive market over the past two decades. There has been little growth in demand for cars in the US, Europe, and Japan, but automotive needs in those places have diversified. Growth in car sales is coming from developing nations, but people there tend to expect a car to be priced at around $10,000.
In discussing fuel economy, he said power trains will be increasingly diversified by different models using different types of fuel. He called ECUs the key to advancements in powertrain, body, safety, and multimedia control systems.
Kuroyanagi also discussed safety issues at length. Deaths from traffic accidents in Japan among those younger than 65 declined from about 5,400 in 2001 to 2,264 in 2012, but the drop among those 65 and older was more modest (from 3,000 in 2001 to 2,147 in 2012). Among seniors killed in accidents in Japan, 49 percent died at or near intersections. Citing this statistic, he stressed the importance of ADAS in the context of assisting drivers -- the ability to "recognize," "judge," and "operate" a car.