Toyota makes a transmission breakthrough…
Automatic gearboxes have a fundamental flaw and one that, as yet, has proven almost impossible to overcome.
However, Toyota thinks it may be on the brink of an answer.
When driving, we know what we intend to do next, but an automatic gearbox cannot. It can make a perfectly sensible decision based on what we are doing, but not what’s next.
An automatic can enhance driving if we are making an error – there are many drivers who stick in the wrong gear, third and fourth often appear interchangeable to these drivers! The automatic will select the better gear.
The automatic does not though know what is coming up, whether this is a hazard, changed road conditions or even bends and hills – though advanced sat nav and GPS can of course remedy this in time, the GPS speaking to the gearbox, telling it precisely what to prepare for.
That’s a way off for most of us though.
Toyota though believes it now has a system that also factors in what is coming next. Our research makes us think that this is based on common actions, for example, if someone brakes and then the car goes round a bend, it is likely that they will then accelerate out the corner. The Toyota prototype automatic factors all this in and so downshifts ready, saving time.
It is worth noting that this has only been tested on a racing car so far, where is it a fair assumption that slowing down and cornering is followed by aggressive acceleration. Whether this is true of all driving is more debatable. Questions must also be asked about what happens when the assumption is wrong, how does this impact the drive?
It is an example of artificial intelligence entering the world of cars and transmissions but, as with all AI, it certainly needs thorough testing and for all scenarios.
The system, dubbed Direct Automatic Transmission (DAT), has been tested on a GR Yaris in a domestic racing event in Japan.
That, for now, will be the main market as they look to expand usage, it is thought that close to 99% of all new Toyotas shipped in Japan are automatic.
In countries such as the UK where manual transmission still holds greater sway, it will be interesting to see whether this form of technology wins around those who remain sceptical, and perhaps rightly so at times, about automatics’ charms.
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