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Toyota unveils new cars in push for advanced driver-assist tech

Level 2 autonomous drive featured in Lexus LS and Mirai FCV

The Toyota Lexus LS, left, and Mirai FCV are equipped with level 2 autonomous driving. Photo courtesy of Toyota.   © Toyota/Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) -- 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 luxury sedan Lexus LS will be on sale from Thursday, costing between about 16.3 million yen ($148,627.70) and 17.9 million yen, while the second-generation Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car will be offered on April 12 at between 8.4 million and 8.6 million yen.

The new models are Toyota's first products brought to the market that provide over-the-air updates and utilise AI technology centred 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 customisable" much like how people personalise their smartphones, Kuffner added.

Fully self-driven cars are still likely to be years away, but rival General Motors Co 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 Motor Co Ltd, 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.

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