For decades, Toyota has been a disruptive force within the auto industry. The Japanese automaker has been responsible for a slew of impressive innovations, including producing the first mass-market hybrid vehicle in the form of the Prius. It also developed a slew of active safety features—like collision avoidance and intelligent cruise control—to help keep drivers safer on the road. Now, the company is turning its technological resources toward simplifying another driving challenge—towing.
If you’re an RVer who tows a travel trailer or dinghy vehicle with you on your adventures, you already know how challenging that process can be. Important driving dynamics, like accelerating, braking, and turning, are all significantly altered, as are rear visibility and the amount of strain you put on your engine. Add in concerns over proper tire inflation and weight distribution, and it’s easy to see why towing can be a source of frustration for many.
Recently, Toyota shared that it is working on a way to eliminate those issues entirely. The company says that it is developing a hitchless towing system that removes the physical connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer or dinghy. Instead, it replaces the hitch with an autonomous driving system that would allow trailers and cars to follow along entirely on their own.
In explaining the new system, Paul Fanson, senior manager of Toyota Motor North America Research & Design’s Advanced Product Planning Office, said, “It basically allows two vehicles to play follow the leader. The lead vehicle would be driven by a human. The follow vehicle would naturally follow behind as a trailer would, but there would be no physical connection.”
The details about how it works remain a mystery, but the video above shows the system in action. In this case, a Toyota van serves as the lead vehicle, while a second van follows along close behind. For safety purposes, a person is in the driver’s seat of the “towed” vehicle, although they are just there to monitor the autonomous driving capabilities.
Toyota says that it has been developing the system for a number of months now and will soon begin testing it on actual roads. However, despite making impressive progress, the technology is probably years away from making its way into a production vehicle. Still, it holds a lot of promise for the future when semi-autonomous electric travel trailers could tag along behind even a small car that wouldn’t normally be able to tow a camper.
For further information, watch the video above and read Toyota’s press release announcing the hitchless towing future.