• Robotic ride concept shown at the Consumer Electronics Show
  • Radar, laser and GPS tech point to a driver-less future
  • Target: intelligent cars on intelligent roads

The Lexus Integrated Safety Management Concept, unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, doesn't sound very... well, Vegas. Not much pizazz. But when Toyota's premium brand explains that this is a car with a silicon co-pilot and could eventually lead to a self-driving vehicle, the attention meter jumps up considerably.

Based on a 2013 LS, it's not the prettiest of concepts. That's mostly because of the 360-degree laser, inertial measurements unit and GPS antennae on the roof, plus various cameras and radar units around the rest of the car. These appendages allow a central "brain" to receive and process all the information, then make split-second decisions and take action.

That action might mean priming or even applying the brakes, pre-tensioning seat belts, or taking over the steering wheel completely. Should all these interacting systems fail to avoid a collision, this setup can contact emergency and roadside services automatically.

Admittedly, this kind of technology is already available in several cars. The usual 2013 Lexus LS, for example, has adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a complete stop and then back up to the preset speed, plus blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance and a rear cross traffic alert function.

Where this Lexus goes beyond what you can currently buy in the showroom is that its system can discern red and green traffic lights, and "see" not just approaching obstacles but also any vehicles or hazards to the left, right and rear. The ultimate aim is for vehicles to communicate with each other as well as their surroundings. Stopping at a red light when there's nothing coming the other way is just wasting time and energy, so that communication could turn the light green.

Lexus says that "key components of these research efforts could lead to a fully autonomous car." But it sees such tech as enhancing a driver's efforts rather than replacing them completely.

"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 driver-less car is just part of the story. Our vision is a car with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving."

What it means to you: On the positive side, it could mean fewer accidents and smoother commutes. And no more road rage; no more blind spots; no more people texting, eating, smoking, trying to discipline their children and trying to drive at the same time. There might be a negative side, but we'll have to get back to you.

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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