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Toyota seeks 'co-pilot' technology to prevent accidents

Toyota presents an experimental automated Lexus LS600hL car,

Toyota presents an experimental automated Lexus LS600hL car, equipped with the automaker's "co-pilot" technology, at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Jan. 7, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Toyota Motor Corp. is developing autonomous safety technologies to create a virtual “co-pilot” in vehicles that helps drivers avoid accidents rather than self- driving cars and trucks.

The carmaker unveiled research it’s doing in Japan with a modified Lexus LS sedan fitted with advanced safety equipment at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas yesterday. The car on display this week in Las Vegas has sensors and automated systems to observe, process and respond to its surroundings.

“For Toyota and Lexus, an autonomous vehicle does not translate to a driverless vehicle, but rather a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving,” Mark Templin, head of U.S. sales for Lexus, said yesterday at a show presentation. “The driver must be fully engaged.”

Toyota, Asia’s largest automaker, and competitors already offer cars with features including cruise control that monitors and maintains a safe distance from vehicles ahead, sensors to warn of swerving out of a lane, and automated braking triggered when a vehicle doesn’t slow enough to avoid impact.

Improvements in such areas, rather than cars that fully drive themselves, are Toyota’s near-term priority. Toyota is doing the research at the Higashi-Fuji technical center in Japan.

Google Inc. has been testing a self-driving Prius in California for years, and the U.S. Defense Department has sponsored autonomous-vehicle research for more than a decade. Toyota has no plans for now to sell a self-driving vehicle, Jim Pisz, the carmaker’s corporate manager for North American business strategy, said in an interview.

Testing ‘Platform’

“We have a different philosophy than other people who are doing autonomous car projects,” Templin said in an interview yesterday. “We believe the technology should make the driver better and that it should not be a driverless car.”

Toyota said its test vehicle is a “platform” to develop systems to aid driver awareness of traffic conditions, enabling motorists to make better decisions and improve driving skills. The company isn’t currently seeking authorization to operate its autonomous car on U.S. roads, Pisz said.

Nevada issued a license to Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit allowing the testing of self-driving vehicles on that state’s roads, according to an Audi statement.

U.S. sales headquarters for Toyota and Lexus are in Torrance, California, while the parent company is based in Toyota City, Japan. Volkswagen is based in Wolfsburg, Germany, and Audi’s U.S. headquarters are in Herndon, Virginia.

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