Michigan, United States — The autonomous vehicle market has found its newest technological advancement in the creation and application of what is being called ‘hitchless towing’.
Toyota is the leader of this new technology, having presented the concept for a media event at the American Centre for Mobility, an AV test centre in Ann Arbour, Michigan.
The technology sees a pair of vehicles driving in sync with each other, with one vehicle acting as a human-driven leader, and the other following behind independently.
The secondary autonomous vehicle follows the movement and actions of the driven lead, changing lanes, speeding up, and slowing down accordingly. However, this will eventually allow for multiple vehicles to be ‘towed’ in sync with one another with only one driver needed.
The idea for this unique AV system was submitted internally via Toyota’s Hype Innovation app and was immediately labelled a priority by the company.
Within a year, the connection-free towing idea has progressed from simple simulation to real prototypes created with two Toyota Sienna minivans.
Thus far, demonstrations have kept the leading and trailing vehicles at a larger distance, and at a lower rate of speed. However, as technology develops, these distances can be shortened, and the speed at which the vehicles were able to travel improved.
Emphasis on the technology is also in programming how smaller vehicles could tow larger vehicles behind them, such as a Prius leading a larger camper van,
The applications of this technology are widespread. It could be used in individual towing of trailers and campers for family/personal use. However, it could also be used commercially in fleet management and shipping. Imagine a world where several designated shipping trucks could be led to their destination by only one driver, potentially leading the way in a significantly smaller vehicle than the trucks following it.
This new technology truly seems like the way of the future. Following the leader is no more just an instruction between equal parties. It is now a command between a human leader and an autonomous agent.