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Lobenstein: Connectivity can one day lead to zero car accidents (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

LAS VEGAS ”“ Toyota believes connected cars will eventually lead to a sharp reduction in accidents, but before autonomous and fully connectedvehicles make this vision a reality, a lot of investment will still be needed. The Japanese carmaker in early January provided some more details about a 1 billion dlr artificial intelligence research project that will tackle some of the more difficult challenges of autonomous driving. At the CES consumer electronics show here, Sandy Lobenstein, Toyota USA’svice president connected vehicle technology and product planning, spoke to automotiveIT about the carmaker’s medium and long-term strategy.

Where is Toyota in the race to enter this new-mobility era and why does it always take so long for new technologies to be ready for the market?We are actually pretty far along on the road to new personal mobility and we consider ourselves one of the leaders. We’ve been working on improved methods of mobility for decades. We’ve always though of mobility as multi-modal. When it comes to autonomous driving, stopping when the car ahead stops or changing lanes is the easy part. The bigger question that we’re addressing with the artificial intelligence program is how an autonomous car will handle the things that cannot be programmed. For example, what should the car decide when a branch falls off of a tree and the car hasn’t seen something like this before.

Why is safety so important now that just about all cars sold today have pretty good safety records?Cars are safe, but there are still tens of thousands of deaths from car accidents every year. Connectivity has the ability to one day make that zero, which is Toyota’s goal as well. If the car is smart and gets its information from other vehicles and from the infrastructure it can make better decisions and avoid accidents altogether rather than just protect people.

It has become fairly easy to connect your smartphone, yet a lot of people continue to make calls with the phone to their ears while driving. Why is that?Our vision for Toyota is that your profile goes with you when you, for instance, own a Toyota and get into a rental. That’s the vision and it’s something customers want, but it’s difficult to implement such technology as an aftermarket solution. And not a lot of people will spend the extra money after they have already bought the car. The decision is easy when it’s included in the price of the car.

- Interview by Arjen Bongard