Toyota Safety Sense: Q&A with Tjark Kreuzinger

At a recent preview event for the upcoming new Toyota Auris and Toyota Avensis models, we caught up with one of the people behind one of the cars’ key new features, Toyota Safety Sense.

A new package that will be available as standard or as a reasonably priced optional extra across 70 per cent of the Toyota range by the end of 2015, Toyota Safety Sense brings together features including pre-collision detection, lane-departure warning, automatic high beam adjustment and road sign assistance to make driving safer.

We spoke to Tjark Kreuzinger, Senior Manager of Safety Research & Technical Affairs at Toyota Motor Europe, to find out more about the system, the tech behind it and where it could lead.

Toyota Blog: Hi Tjark. How long have you been working on Toyota Safety Sense?

Tjark Kreuzinger: Pretty much four years. What we had before was the pre-crash safety system (which we now call pre-collision system). It’s still in production and is based on long-range radar, or on some models, radar and cameras. It’s very good, but expensive.

The challenge we had with Toyota Safety Sense was to make that capability more accessible and easy to adopt for more people. We wanted to bring everything together in one unit, and that’s where Toyota Safety Sense came from.

TB: So what is the Toyota Safety Sense unit?

TK: It’s one unit, mounted to the windscreen, which has lidar – a laser system – and a camera, so two sensors. It works at speeds up to 50mph, much more than what you’d normally expect from the ‘city’ systems that have been around up to now.

Toyota Safety Sense can fully avoid impacts at a driving speed of 30kph (18.6mph) in basically every situation. But depending on the conditions, for example in a potential car-to-car collision, where the car ahead is driving at a similar pace to the one behind, it can work at much higher speeds like 80kph (50mph).

The system is also good for giving a very accurate detection of what kind of obstacle is ahead – it does not just recognise there is something in your path, but it also classifies it.

TB: How does it do that?

TK: The best explanation would be to say that if you only have a camera, you cannot distinguish between a cardboard cutout of a person, and a real person. If there is a cardboard cutout next to the road, a camera-only system would not be able to tell if it is a human or not.

A radar-only system would not work perfectly either because it’s actually hard to distinguish between a human and something like an aluminium can because of the reflection it receives back is too similar, and it only scans horizontally so it is not as sensitive to the position of an object.

When we can use radar and a camera as well, we can make the sliding scale between activation and non-activation more accurate. A human doesn’t actually create much of a lidar or radar response, but it has a bit – and significantly more than a piece of cardboard or some other object. Combining the lidar input and the camera, the system can know very well if it’s seeing a human or not, where the human is, and then decide whether to activate the safety system.

A fusion of these technologies can deliver higher performance and better avoid any false detection.

TB: Are there additional sensors around the car?

TK: It’s just the one unit, it combines the lidar and camera. The idea behind Toyota Safety Sense is to use multiple technologies within one unit in order to make an accurate system that is accessible to more car owners and not too expensive.

TB: Will the Toyota Safety Sense system immediately take control of the car if it senses a potential accident?

TK: We know that accidents happen because drivers are not perfect. Around 90 per cent of accidents are due to driver error. This means that a driver might not detect what’s going on around them, might not react properly, or not react at all. And as a consequence accidents still happen.

One of the key Toyota philosophies is to try and inform the driver as much as possible, making them alert so they can react to a situation. We’re not trying to completely automate the system.

Our studies have shown that three-quarters to 80 per cent of people will react in a potential accident situation if they’re given a warning. So having the car ‘prepare’ itself by boosting brake pressure, while giving the driver the opportunity to react on their own is the preferred solution at this stage – we like to have the driver in control.

Of course, if the driver does not do anything to react, then the automated element of the system takes action.

The technology of our new system and the reason it’s better at detection is to give drivers more warning of possible collisions, enough for them to act and prevent a collision at higher speeds.

TB: Automated driving is a hot topic at the moment. It sounds like Toyota Safety Sense keeps the driver at the centre of what’s going on.

TK: We appreciate the technology that automated driving is connected to, because it will increase road safety. We support making more safety systems available, for example what we have here, but Toyota Safety Sense is not automated driving.

That said, it is pretty well-known that Toyota is working on automated driving systems, and especially here in Europe as there is a big push from governments and cities to make roads safe, while dealing with environmental issues and increasing traffic density.

There are definite theoretical benefits to automated driving. Once cars can talk to each other, systems will even allow for detecting problems that are around the corner, out of sight in a city condition or in a traffic jam. In Japan, Toyota is already operating a couple of cars in real traffic in order to investigate this.

We think automated driving will happen. We think customers will like it, but we do not aim for automated driving because we simply think it would be interesting – it’s the safety behind it that appeals to us and there is lot that can be done while keep the driver at the centre of things.

TB: Some features of Toyota Safety Sense give additional benefits during normal driving, such as adaptive cruise control. Do those ‘extras’ make pitching your ideas easier? 

TK: Absolutely. For my colleagues, safety is the number one priority but we recognise the fact that sensors and technology developed for safety purposes can provide a driver with good information and convenience.

It’s a part of what we call the integrated approach. For example, if you have radar systems that help when you’re parking and let you know the position of your car is OK, then you have more mental resources to watch out for pedestrians appearing behind you.

When you’re in normal driving, support systems such as braking stability control, adaptive cruise control or anything like that, allow you to have better control of your inputs and your car. They help avoid accidents – stability control is a good example as it reduces single-car accidents by 40 per cent – and when you get closer to risk, the systems like Toyota Safety Sense allow the driver to get more information, earlier, before an accident could happen.

Obviously we still always focus on the passive safety of Toyota vehicles to protect occupants when a collision is unavoidable, but the next stage for my team is working on the systems to improve and speed up the rescue of people who have been in an accident.

TB: Will new features be added to Toyota Safety Sense as time goes on?

TK: We are launching the system now, and we think it has great benefits and we are pleased it will be very accessible to people – either as a standard feature or an option that is reasonably priced depending on which model someone chooses.

That said, we are not at the end of what pre-collision safety can do, so over time we are certainly aiming to continue pushing things forward. Anybody might be able to imagine what that might be – for us, that would be wider-range sensors, or additional sensors to create more of an all-around view.

Find out more about Toyota Safety Sense at Toyota.co.uk or in this blog post.

49 comments

  1. Hi
    I have the same issues with my new Toyota Avensis which i bought from Listers in Boston. It is going back for the 3rd time this next week. Getting very fed up with it. The auto headlamps only work periodically and the heat pad has also been fitted but has had no beneficial effect. The system switches itself on and off at night in all conditions even when mild and dry so it isn’t temperature,fog or rain related . It is potentially a dangerous issue. Either my unit is faulty or rather more worryingly the system itself is not fit for purpose. Strangely the system worked ok for a few days after it was looked at on the previous 2 occasions but then it just deteriates and seems to get confused. Very poor especially after 2 visits to the dealer.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Have you spoken to our customer relations department about your poor visits to the dealer? We would recommend speaking with them to report your complaints and see if they can help you.

      1. Sent an email on Friday haven’t heard back yet. This issue seems to be quite a widespread problem when you look on the forums. I think a recall will be the next thing as it seems to be a design flaw with the unit retaining moisture and the heat pad isn’t working to resolve it. Other than change the unit what else can this dealer do? They tell me Toyota refuses to do this as they cost£1000.

      2. Hi Andrew,
        We’d have to recommend waiting to hear from our customer relations team. The team is back in the office and will therefore be answering queries, we would suggest allowing up to 72 hours for a response. If you have not heard anything past this mark, please let us know!

      3. Car has been picked up for the 3rd time from Listers. Still haven’t heard from Toyota. I have heard from a reliable source that most Toyota dealers are now getting atleast 1 car back a day with Toyota Sense problems with the auto headlights. It’s affecting the Avensis,Auris and Verso. Have read on another forum that the only proper fix is to get a modified camera system with built in heat pad fitted which is now available from Toyota. Clearly this is going to cost Toyota big time seeing the scale of this problem. I have also heard that plenty of customers are now rejecting the cars because the toyota sense issues are not being resolved by the quick fix ‘heat pad’. Recall would be the most sensible thing for Toyota to do in my view as tyhis is not doing their reputation any favours.

      4. Hi there,
        Have you got a case number for our customer relations team? We will be able to check the state of your case if you can provide us with this.

  2. Which team are you suggesting? I emailed Toyota directly and haven’t had a response and the car has been taken back to Listers for a 3rd time-i don’t know what they are doing. It seems to me that unless they replace the unit with a modified system with built in heater then the issue won’t be addressed. This is what appears to be the case from what i’ve read on the forums. The heat pad doesn’t work in preventing condensation from interfering with the cameras so unless Toyota agrees to change the unit then this problem isn’t going to be solved. The toyota sense unit design is a disaster. I heard from a reliable source that 1 car a day is being seen at Listers with TSS problems with a good number of cars being rejected. That’s not what the receptionist will tell you though.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Sorry for the confusion, we were referring to the customer relations team. Can we ask when you emailed Toyota? Usually we recommend waiting 72 hours for a response from the team. We will take note of your email address and see if we can find your case on our systems. Many thanks.

    2. Hi Andrew,
      We’ve found your case on our system and a member of our customer relations team will get in touch with you today. Many thanks for your patience.

  3. Listers in Boston have called this morning claiming they couldn’t replicate the error on the auto headlights which is highly unbelievable. No modified camera sysyem with built in heater has been fitted so i will be having the same not fit for purpose system back which is a danger to use on the roads. Have told the dealer that i will take a photo every time the system is switched off by the autohead lights and they will be hearing from me shortly. Will not accept this at all and will now collect evidence to take this further.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      We’re sorry to hear that you’re unhappy. We’d have to suggest keeping any contact with Toyota through the customer relations team. They will be able to log all comments to build your case. Many thanks.

    2. My dealer had my car for two weeks. Within a cople of days of getting it back the system had “errored” twice. I keep a log of all such events and have 3 movies – taken once I have stopped the car for obvious safety reasons.

  4. After 3 days at Listers heard back yesterday that whoever drove the car couldn’t replicate the problem so they have returned the car without any work whatsoever. Prior to the car being collected every evening for a week i had nightly issues with the autoheadlights not working and then switching the TSS system off. Will now collect photographic evidence every time the system is switched off because condenstion in the unit is preventing the auto headlights from working and this dealership will be hearing from me when when the data and evidence is collected,dated and printed off. What i don’t understand is that previously i was told that these errors are stored in the unit itself so the technician can see when,what and how many times there are issues with the TSS system yet this time they have chosen to ignore this. Another fob off. Prior to this i had a good opinion of the dealer and Toyota which is why i bought 3 cars from this dealer. Will be reevaluating that.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      We’ve spoken with our customer relations team and they have advised us that they will review any evidence you provide, but at this present time there’s no fault found so nothing more they can advise. We recommend contacting the Motor Ombudsman. Many thanks.

  5. Have run a Toyota Auris hybrid now for six months. The car is fine but the safety sense system is a real pain. The sensors don’t work most of the time for a variety of reasons. When this happens there is an orange flashing light on the dashboard which is at best tiresome. At worst this is a dangerous distraction. Have contacted the dealer but to be honest they don’t seem to have a clue.

    1. Hi David,
      We’re sorry to hear you’re not happy with the TSS system. We would have to advise contacting customer relations to log your issues. They will be able to assist further. Many thanks.

      1. Sounds like you are fobbing me off. I am a member of Which and will be contacting them with a view to advising purchasers of Toyota cars not to buy this system.

      2. Hi David,
        We’re certainly not aiming to fob you off. Our customer relations team have your contact email and will be getting in touch shortly. We hope this issue gets resolved for you. Many thanks.

  6. My partner has just picked up her brand new Auris Hybrid Icon whilst driving the auto main beam stopped working, no other lights or reflections also there was an error light on the dash on the speedo side (not centre display) which was a car with a star/explosion sign (can’t find a better word to describe it) and wondering if this is related to the above?

  7. Hi Craig,
    Thanks for getting in touch. It is possible that this warning light may come on if there is condensation between the camera (located on the top area of the front windshield). It might be a good idea for the you to use the vehicle’s AC system in order to demist the front screen. If the issue persists, we’d advise going to your local Toyota Dealer. You can find your nearest dealer here: https://www.toyota.co.uk/find-your-dealer.json.
    Hope this helps.

    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for getting in touch. Please could you provide your reg or VIN number so we can look further in to this for you. Thanks.

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