Son, have you been drinking tonight?

Yes officer, I must say I’ve enjoyed a few libations this evening.

Well, I think you’d better step out of the car; we’ve got some pretty strict laws against that kind of stuff in this state.

But I wasn’t driving officer!

Isn’t anyone else in the car, son. Seems you’ve had more than just ‘a few’.

Honestly, Officer! Mr. Toyota has been at the controls the whole time…

Toyota Motor Corporation announced it would be unveiling a self-driving car at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being held in Las Vegas January 8 to 11, 2013. The car, a Lexus LS600, is outfitted with radars, cameras and an array of sensors that allow it to be cognizant of its immediate environment.

U.S. Internet search giant Google was first out of the gate in driverless car development, and has been refining its technology since 2010. With global heavyweight Toyota jumping into the field, however, expedited technological progress will be inevitable. Last year, an investigative committee belonging to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism released a report stating as a goal, practical application of automatic driving technologies by the early 2020s. It might not be long before Toyota’s dreams become reality.

Collision Avoidance, Traffic Signal Recognition
The experimental car is capable of avoiding collisions with pedestrians and other autos, and based on detailed electronic map data can accurately perceive roadway information such as traffic lanes and signals, allowing it to operate without a driver. Toyota uploaded a five second video clip to its website showing the car in action and proclaimed “Advancing automobile safety, the Lexus research vehicle will lead the world in ushering in a new age of automated driving.”

A laser can be seen mounted on the Lexus’ roof, and it would appear to be the same type as used by Google’s own experimental car. Google is also using a lot of Toyota vehicles as platforms for its driverless cars, however, according to the Wall Street Journal, each company is independently developing its own system and Toyota’s technology is not a result of collaboration between the two.

Google has announced it aims to achieve practical realization of its automated driving technologies within the next five years, and last August successfully completed an incident-free 48-kilometer test run of its self-driven Google Car. Nevada, California and Florida have already passed laws permitting the operation of driverless cars making it legal for the Google Car to operate on public roads in those states.

Shift toward Safety and Easy Driving
The fact that Toyota is unveiling its creation at a consumer electronics show instead of a motor show is rather suggestive of future intentions.

As electric vehicles (EV) have increased in popularity they have also transformed into centerpieces of home electronics. Corresponding to an increase in the number of female and elderly drivers, they also emphasize safety and ease of operation over speed and horsepower, and may signal a shift by the auto industry in that direction.

Last year in Japan, traffic fatalities decreased for the 12th consecutive year, registering a total of 4,111. This was the first time in 61 years fatalities fell below the 4,500 mark. The National Police Agency attributes remarkable improvements in vehicle safety technology as one of the reasons for the decline.

German car maker Audi will also demonstrate automated driving technology at CES. The system it plans to unveil includes a feature that will allow the vehicle to automatically find a parking space, even without a driver.

There may come a day in the not-too-distant future when a license is no longer needed to operate a car. Sit back, enjoy the view, and perhaps a drink if you so fancy.

Source: Sankei News Title image: Automobile