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Toyota fights back on safety

Safety first: Toyota has revealed a raft of life-saving equipment advances.

Crash avoidance is next big thing for Toyota as it shows off new safety systems

25 Jul 2011

A COLLISION avoidance system that not only automatically brakes the car but also steers away from trouble, and a steering wheel that can detect a driver heart attack, are among safety technologies foreshadowed by Toyota at its safety testing facility near Mount Fuji, Japan.

The Japanese giant is keen to show that it can mix it with the best on life-saving equipment advances as it seeks to repair its bruised reputation after a rash of safety recalls over the past two years.

However, Toyota gave no timetable for the introduction of any of the systems, nor any indication of what models they might first appear on.

The company showed off systems designed to avoid rear-end, pedestrian and lane-departure collisions – most of which have surfaced in one form or another at other companies such as Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

But Toyota said the systems were being developed to detect a broad range of obstacles, including approaching vehicles, and initiate avoidance measures, including steering changes to “navigate a safe route”.

Obstacles, including pedestrians, are detected by a combination of radar and stereo cameras – apparently in the same way as Volvo’s pioneering system on its S60. Infra-red beams enhance visibility at night.

 center imageLeft: Toyota's pedestrian avoidance system and its steering wheel-based cardiovascular irregularity detector.

Toyota said it hoped to commercialise its emergency-response technology that can detect cardiovascular irregularity through sensors on the steering wheel.

The company said afflictions such as ventricular fibrillation – the cause of cardiac arrest – could cause drivers to lose consciousness, creating a potentially dangerous situation.

It did not say how the system could avoid a road drama, only that it could detect the affliction through the driver’s hands.

It said further research was needed on the system, which it plans to show off at the 28th General Assembly of the Japanese Medical Congress next April.

Among other safety technologies revealed under the Toyota banner for the first time are a pop-up bonnet that reduces pedestrian trauma by increasing the space beneath the hood for more ‘give’, and an adaptive headlight system that partially shields on-coming drivers from headlight glare.

Mercedes-Benz has already shown a similar pop-up bonnet, while Volkswagen already has adaptive headlight shielding technology on its Phaeton.

Toyota said its new technologies were in response to alarming data about the growing proportion of pedestrians and older people killed in traffic accidents, as well as a high incidence of night-time fatalities.

It said pedestrians in Japan now accounted for a higher proportion of the road toll than people inside vehicles. As well, 50.4 per cent of victims were 65 or older.

Despite fewer cars being on the road at night, almost half of all Japanese road deaths (49.3 per cent) happened between sunset and sunrise.

Meanwhile, Japanese reports say Toyota is planning to offer AC electric outlets as an option on its Prius hybrid so customers can plug in household appliances.

Automotive News reports that the idea was born after a Toyota Estima (Tarago) hybrid was used as an emergency power source in the recent Japanese earthquake.

Last week, Toyota demonstrated a Prius with a 100-volt plug and onboard inverter powering a fan, hotpot, table lamp and refrigerator, delivering up to 1500 watts.

Toyota plans to introduce the accessory system, but only in Japan.

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