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Toyota accelerates automated-driving push

TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp., sometimes branded as too slow and cautious in the self-driving vehicle race, is finally mapping out a faster track into automated driving technologies.

Through the acquisition of the U.S. high-tech mapping company Carmera Inc., the world’s largest automaker expects to get a boost in its pursuit of higher-level autonomous capabilities in the next several years.

The acquisition could mark a breakthrough for Toyota, whose automated driving technology is offered only in certain top-shelf grades of two nameplates, the flagship Lexus LS luxury sedan and the pricey Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle.

Under the deal announced last week, Toyota’s in-house automated- driving subsidiary Woven Planet will buy Carmera with an eye to creating vehicles protected in “safety envelopes.” Detailed, updateable digital maps are seen as a necessity for advanced automated driving, and the partners plan to develop a cost-effective system geared toward mass- market deployment.

Mandali Khalesi, Woven Planet’s vice president of automated driving strategy and mapping, said the buyout of Carmera will enable Woven Planet to jump-start development.

Woven Planet expected to begin creating high-definition digital maps of U.S. roadways in 2022. But with the Carmera deal, it can begin creating them by the end of this year. Once complete, the maps will be available to move beyond Level 2 automated driving in “much less” than five years, he said. The initial set of map data will encompass virtually every paved road in the country, he said.

After that, customers will be able to carve out and customize data sets.

“We’re looking at expanding our footprint to the U.S. so we can start building up our map operations there. That really gives us a head start in being able to bring forward the timeline,” Khalesi said in an interview last week.

Woven Planet declined to disclose how much it will spend for Carmera, a company that uses vehicular crowd-sourcing and remote sensing to capture street-level change for the maps. The companies want to use more affordable off-the-shelf technologies, such as dashcams, to automatically update digital maps through the cloud.

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