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Just when we thought Teens were the concern, Toyota unveils distracted-driving cars

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Soon your Toyota will talk with other cars, alerting them to how quickly you're braking and accelerating.

Toyota hasn’t shown as much interest in autonomous cars as other carmakers (insert unintended acceleration joke here), but the company is taking its first tentative steps into the world of robo-cars.

Several systems that allow cars to drive themselves under certain conditions could find their way into production Toyotas in the near future.

The first of these technologies is called Lane Trace Control (LTC). LTC uses cameras and radar to read lane markers and adjusts steering to keep a car centered in its lane. It can even steer a car through curves, and automatically brake to ensure correct cornering speeds.

This isn’t a new technology – Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, and other luxury brands offer similar systems – but LTC also uses GPS map data, which Toyota says makes the system more accurate, and thus able to take over driving duties in more situations.

The second, new system is Cooperative-Adaptive Cruise Control (C-ACC). Like LTC, it adds more functionality to a feature that’s already been available for some time: Adaptive cruise control (ACC), which allows a car to follow the vehicle in front with little or no input from the driver. ACC is beginning to trickle down from luxury cars to more mainstream models. However, Toyota’s version is more sophisticated.

C-ACC allows cars to send signals to each other, speeding up the reaction time of the system by giving the following car more warning of acceleration and braking. This is a form of vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), another version of which is currently undergoing large-scale testing in Michigan.

The system being tested in Michigan is designed to warn drivers of potential collisions, but Toyota’s system has the cars make corrections autonomously. Reducing sudden acceleration and deceleration improves fuel economy and lessens traffic congestion, the company says.

LTC and C-ACC are bundled into a package system called Automated Highway Driving Assist (AHDA). Toyota is testing another autonomous system for when cars leave the highway.

The company is working on an advanced version of its Pre-Collision System (PCS). In its current form, PCS detects objects in a vehicle’s path and autonomously brakes the vehicle to mitigate, or potentially avoid, a frontal collision. This version of PCS is already available on some Toyota and Lexus models.

Toyota plans to add autonomous steering to the mix.

While your Driver’s Ed instructor may have told you it was better to hit an obstacle than to swerve to avoid it, PCS analyzes potential collisions and determines if evasive action is warranted and can be accomplished safely. That’s if the driver doesn’t react to a series of visual and audio warnings.

Toyota says the first of these autonomous systems will appear in production cars by the middle of the decade.

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