Autonomous driving technology has an assortment of applications and Toyota is pursuing the idea of “hitchless towing.”
Demonstrated during a media event at the American Center for Mobility, hitchless towing sees one vehicle act as a human-driven lead while the other vehicle(s) follows autonomously.
Toyota admits the idea is a little out there, but hitchless towing is a bit like follow the leader as the follow vehicle mimics the actions of the driver in the lead vehicle. As a result, the follow vehicle autonomously speeds up, slows down, and changes lanes to follow the vehicle in front of it.
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The idea was submitted internally and judged to be a “key priority” for the company. This saw the project come to fruition and, within a year, hitchless towing has progressed from simulation to two Sienna prototypes.
Since the project is still in the early stages of development, the follow vehicle has a safety driver and has been programmed to keep its distance in the name of safety. However, as the project progresses, the distances could be shortened and the safety driver could be eliminated.
The applications for hitchless towing are pretty interesting as let’s say you have a family cabin and keep a vehicle there during the summer. As fall comes around, you can drive up to the cabin yourself and bring the other vehicle back autonomously.
Hitchless towing would also be helpful when moving as it would enable a single person to haul two or more vehicles stuffed with everything from furniture to small appliances or household items.
Furthermore, Toyota showed a brief animation depicting a completely separate ‘tow module’ hauling a camper. This could theoretically allow something like the Corolla or Prius to ‘tow’ boats and campers.
Expanding on the idea even further, it could overcome one of the biggest downfalls of electric vehicles – drastically reduced ranges when towing. Assuming the so-called tow module was gas or diesel-powered, it would enable drivers in an electric lead vehicle to complete their journey without having to worry about reduced range or frequent recharging.
Live photo and video credit: Michael Gauthier for CarScoops