TOYOTA TAKES RALLY ROUTE TO TOMORROW’S DRIVERLESS CARS

World Rally Championship team’s technology partnership with Microsoft to gather data in extreme conditions

Rallying’s high-speed world of mud, gravel, ice and snow seems far removed from the cool, clean world of high technology, but Toyota and Microsoft are ready to use on-the-limit competition as an ideal test bed for advanced systems that will help deliver the autonomous cars of the future.

Microsoft was revealed as a technology partner to Toyota’s World Rally Championship programme at the Paris motor show and will be playing an important role in helping the Toyota Gazoo Racing team during their debut season in the sport’s top tier next year. At the same time, it will be gathering valuable data that will feed directly into the Toyota Research Institute’s work exploring how artificial intelligence can be used to deliver safer, sustainable and more convenient mobility.

Announcing the partnership, Toyota President Akio Toyoda emphasised the central role motorsport plays in Toyota’s development of future vehicles. He said: “I view racing as an opportunity for us to make ever better cars. (We want) to use racing as a real life laboratory to improve the performance, handling and durability of our cars.”

Koei Saga, Toyota Gazoo Racing Technical Director, explained how the performance the Yaris WRC rally car will help progress towards delivering autonomous vehicle technology for the road.

He said: “Right now the biggest technical difficulty is that you cannot predict everything, such as when somebody suddenly drives directly in front of you or if some people are crossing the road without checking whether a car is coming. Most of the sensors that we have at the moment cannot react that fast. This is one challenge we are dealing with.

“We have put our sensors on to our rally cars and there was an instance, for example, where the sensors predicted a rock in front of the car. When the sensors become capable of dealing with those obstacles while travelling at the high speeds of a rally car, we can enhance the level of sensor technology as a whole.”

Following months of intensive testing under the guidance of Team Principal and four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen, the Yaris WRC is drawing closer to its competition debut at the Rallye Monte Carlo in January. Last week the Finnish duo of Juho Hänninen and Kaj Lindström were confirmed as driver and co-driver.

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