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Toyota shows off its new self-driving test vehicle

Test platform by AI unit to help speed development of autonomous cars

Toyota Motor's new test vehicle was developed by the company's artificial intelligence unit. (Courtesy of Toyota Motor)

SONOMA, U.S. Toyota Motor on March 3 unveiled the latest version of a vehicle developed specifically for the research and development of autonomous driving.

The vehicle was shown to the public for the first time at an event held at Sonoma Raceway in northern California. It is based on the current-generation Lexus LS 600hL hybrid, but a system has been added to test various autonomous-driving technologies and collect data.

The leading Japanese automaker first displayed an autonomous research vehicle in 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Since then, the company has stepped up work on self-driving cars. It established the Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley in January last year to boost R&D on artificial intelligence, with plans to invest $1 billion over five years.

Securing talent was the main reason Silicon Valley was chosen for the location. TRI currently employs around 150 people in Silicon Valley, Massachusetts and Michigan. It plans to increase staff to 250 in the near future.

"This new advanced safety research vehicle is the first autonomous testing platform developed entirely by TRI," Gill Pratt, the institute's chief executive officer, is quoted as saying in a statement from Toyota.

The vehicle's ability to handle various levels of autonomous driving should help Toyota advance its existing drive-assist system at a faster pace, as well as realize the goal of commercializing autonomous vehicles that can safely travel on the highway in around 2020.

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