TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp unveiled on Thursday new models of Lexus and Mirai in Japan, equipped with advanced driver assistance, as competition heats up to develop more self-driving and connected cars.
Toyota's latest launch comes as automakers, electric car startups and tech giants invest heavily in so-called active safety features.
The Japanese carmaker's new driving assist technology, or Advanced Drive, features a level 2 autonomous system that helps driving, such as limiting the car in its lane, maintaining the distance from other vehicles and changing lanes under the driver's supervision on expressways or other motor-vehicle-only roads. The system can even handle lane merges, and when passing trucks its lane system will move the car further to the opposite side of its lane. The car will recommend a course of action to a driver before executing it. The system also features a camera to monitor the driver's actions and level of attentiveness, and if the driver seems unresponsive or incapacitated, the car will pull itself over.
The luxury sedan Lexus LS will be on sale from Thursday, costing between about 16.3 million yen ($148,600) and 17.9 million yen ($164,000), while the second-generation Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car will be offered on April 12 at between 8.4 million ($76,900) and 8.6 million yen ($78,750).
The new models are Toyota's first products brought to the market that provide over-the-air updates and utilize AI technology centered on deep learning, said Toyota executive James Kuffner, who is also the head of Toyota's research unit Woven Planet.
"This is really an important first step in our journey towards software-first development," he said at an online briefing on Thursday, adding that the company has tried to design the software to be truly global and to provide re-usability.
In the future, software features on cars will be "upgradable" and "more customizable" much like how people personalize their smartphones, Kuffner added.
Fully self-driven cars are still likely to be years away, but rival General Motors early this year made a splash at the virtual Consumer Electronics Show with a fully-autonomous all-electric flying Cadillac concept, while Chinese search engine operator Baidu unveiled a partnership with local car brand Geely.
Toyota's domestic competitor, Honda, last month unveiled a partially self-driving Legend sedan in Japan, becoming the world's first carmaker to sell a vehicle equipped with new, certified level 3 automation technology.
There was no word on when these features would be available for the U.S. market.