Lexus sees Google’s self-driving car, raises it a shiny luxury badge and ‘smart’ awareness

Lexus CES 2013

After teasing its first self-driving car earlier today, Lexus marked its first-ever appearance at CES by wheeling out the decked-out LS to the public at a press event. The LS – or safety research vehicle as Lexus refers to it – packs a small arsenal’s worth of tech, including GPS, stereo cameras, radar and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) laser tracking. The LS has been making its rounds on Toyota’s test tracks and is currently capable of measuring the trajectory of vehicle on the road, telling the difference between a red and green light, and actively scanning its surroundings in order to detection potential dangers on the road.

Here is a full list of the Lexus advanced research vehicle on display.

• A 360-degree LIDAR laser on the roof of the vehicle detects objects around the car up to about 70 meters.

• Three high definition color cameras detect objects about 150 meters away, including traffic light detection using the front camera and approaching vehicles using the side cameras.

• Radars on the front and sides of the vehicle measure the location and speed of objects to create a comprehensive field of vision at intersections.

• A distance measurement indicator located on a rear wheel measures travel distance and speed of the vehicle.

• An inertial measurements unit on the roof measures acceleration and angle changes to determine vehicle behavior.

• GPS antennas on the roof estimate angle and orientation even before the vehicle is in motion.

Speaking at Lexus’ press conference, Toyota group vice and general manager of the Lexus Division Mark Templin, described the company’s enduring commitment to automated vehicle safety technologies before going on to lay out the five phases of operation that drive the company’s strategy, which it refers to as Integrated Safety Management Concept.

lexus-integrated-saftey-car

The five phases include:

• Initial time the driver and car begin a journey from a parked position

• Active safety systems designed to avoid a crash

• Pre-crash aimed at preparing for a collision

• Passive safety to help survive a crash

• Rescue and response after a crash has occurred

Lexus is taking a slightly different approach to autonomous vehicle technology than companies like Google and Volvo, which are at the vanguard of the emerging market. Where Google seems willing to subtract the driver from the entire equation, and Volvo promoting its convoy-style SARTRE program, Lexus is taking a more holistic approach, one that still requires a great degree of driver involvement.

“In our pursuit of developing more advanced automated technologies, we believe the driver must be fully engaged,” said Mark Templin, Toyota group vice president and general manger of the Lexus Division. “For Toyota and Lexus, a driverless car is just a part of the story. Our vision is a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving.”

According to Jim Pisz, Toyota’s corporate manager North American business strategy, all companies are using different means to reach the same end. “You have to bring the driver along [for the experience],” Pisz told us. “Google is an extremely competent company, and their focus has primarily been on software and mapping. Our focus has been on engineering, integration, and safety. If you talk to Google and you talk to Toyota, Toyota amazingly has the same endgame, and it is to eliminate accidents and fatalities. So we are kinda starting in the same place and ending at the same place, but we are independently taking the same paths.”

lexus-integrated-saftey-car-sensors

Part of the difference boils down to each company’s competencies. “Google has had significant amount of time with their vehicles and they have focused on developing their software, which is the focus on determining the judgment side of things,” says Pisz. “They have an excellent history of doing that and accomplishing the judgment technologies, and we have invented a lot of the operational technologies like drive by wire, so our expertise is in different areas.”

Of course, the road to full autonomy will undoubtedly be a bumpy one. Lack of education for consumers regarding the technology and legislation from governing bodies are but a few issues that will need to be sorted out. When the time comes and vehicles are “smart” enough to drive themselves on a mass level, legislation will need to be established to figure out details from everything to how close a vehicle can legally follow another to what time of day autonomous vehicles can be utilized. And for us, that day can’t come soon enough.

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