Toyota clearly thinks Tesla is onto something with this whole "camera" thing.
Remember when Elon Musk said all you needed to make self-driving cars work was a few cameras? Toyota clearly does, and here's proof.
Toyota has a subsidiary called Woven Planet. Essentially Toyota's advanced driver assist arm, the company is developing "the automated driving technologies of the future." It was founded back in January and employs around 1,600 people.
Toyota and Woven Planet pursue advanced self-driving technology but have taken a mildly different approach than Tesla. Instead, Toyota and Woven Planet use data collected by cameras to sort of "leapfrog" their lidar and camera tech by teaching the lidar sensors based on data collected from the cameras. So to be fair to Toyota, it's not like they blatantly copied Tesla.
In fact, the 2019 Lexus test vehicle shown in the pictures here is an excellent example. While the Lexus test car doesn't rely exclusively on cameras, as the quarter panels' sensors indicate, it makes liberal use of them. Since 2019, Woven Planet has made some progress in that regard, according to Reuters.
The Toyota subsidiary told the publication that it used cameras to collect data being used to "train" its self-driving software. Think of it like this: the cameras can help the lidar sensors "learn" through that data. Like Tesla, both Toyota and Woven Planet have realized the cost benefits of using cameras instead of costlier lidar sensors. These cameras are apparently 90% cheaper than lidar sensors.
Woven Planet says that gathering driving data from a vast fleet of cars like the Toyota Camry is essential to help develop a reliable self-driving system, but it's incredibly costly. Don't expect it to be an option on your Toyota 4Runner anytime soon.
Cameras make it easier to cast a wider net without those expensive sensors. However, the move is against the self-driving tide, with Waymo and others choosing to invest in those very same, more expensive lidar sensors.
Michael Benisch, VP of engineering at Woven Planet said that the company needs a lot of data. "It's not sufficient to just have a small amount of data that can be collected from a small fleet of very expensive autonomous vehicles." However, Benisch said that Toyota will still use multiple sensors, like lidar and radar, on robotaxis and other roadgoing autonomous vehicles. Still, Benisch believes that in the future, it'll be entirely possible that camera tech can be used to either catch up to or overtake, sensor-driven self-driving systems. Unfortunately, Benisch says Woven Planet just doesn't know when the technology will become safe and reliable.