Michigan, United States — The autonomous vehicle market has found its latest technological breakthrough in the creation and application of so-called ‘hitch-free towing’.
Toyota is the leader in this new technology, having pitched the concept at a media event at the American Center for Mobility, an AV test center in Ann Arbour, Michigan.
The technology sees a pair of vehicles driving in sync with each other, with one vehicle acting as the human-driven leader and the other following independently.
The secondary autonomous vehicle follows the movement and actions of the driven driver, changing lanes, speeding up and slowing down accordingly. However, this will eventually allow multiple vehicles to be “towed” in sync with each other with only one driver needed.
The idea for this unique audio-visual system was submitted internally through Toyota’s Hype Innovation app and was immediately deemed a priority by the company.
Within a year, the idea of tetherless towing went from a simple simulation to real prototypes created with two Toyota Sienna minivans.
Demonstrations so far have kept the lead and tail vehicles at a greater distance and lower speed. However, as technology develops, these distances can be shortened and the speed at which vehicles were able to travel improved.
The emphasis on technology is also in the programming of how smaller vehicles could tow larger vehicles behind them, such as a Prius driving a larger motorhome,
The applications of this technology are widespread. It could be used for individual towing of trailers and RVs for family/personal use. However, it could also be used commercially in fleet management and shipping. Imagine a world where multiple designated expedition trucks could be driven to their destination by a single driver, potentially clearing the way in a vehicle much smaller than the trucks following it.
This new technology really seems to be the way of the future. Following the leader is no longer just an order between equal parties. It is now a command between a human leader and an autonomous agent.