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Toyota exec says rivals 'over promising' on self-driving tech

The company does not expect its high-level autonomous tech to be ready until the late 2020s.

Toyota has warned that fully self-driving technology is likely many years away from commercial rollout.

The head of Toyota Research Institute, James Kuffner, suggests it has been easy for companies to perform demonstrations but only with several layers of restrictions such as geo-fencing, lower speeds or good weather, according to an interview with the Newcastle Herald.
"We can do that now if you restrict it enough. We could deploy that today," he said. "Unfortunately, it isn't that hard to make a demo ... but it would be nowhere near a product."
The executive argues that other companies have been "over promising" self-driving tech and no player is close to rolling out true Level 5 self-driving, which would be capable of driving everywhere in all conditions while the human driver takes a nap in the back seat.
In the meantime, Toyota is moving forward with lower-level automation that can handle "ramp to ramp" highway driving by next year. The company does not expect to have fully autonomous cars ready until the late 2020s.
Kuffner dismissed the "trolley problem," the go-to favorite of sensational media reports, which proposes a theoretical scenario in which a person must decide between hitting five people on the track or diverting onto a side track and killing a single person. Toyota is rightfully not spending time thinking about such scenarios, instead focusing on building a system that always attempts to make the best decision with the available information on hand.
"So we think that our goal is instead of the endless debate about ethics, let's build a system that will try to always make the optimal decision," he argued.
Most players in the self-driving race appear to have fallen behind their most ambitious schedules, while apparent leader Waymo has been careful to avoid publicly stating launch timing. Tesla has walked back its schedule, aiming for full autonomy next year but still requiring the driver to keep hands on the wheel.
Software appears to be the unexpectedly difficult hurdle that companies are still working to overcome.
Waymo's engineering director last year likened the situation to the '90-90 rule,' a humorous aphorism from the software industry that suggests 90 percent of the total development effort begins after the team believes the software is already 90 percent complete.

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