Not to be outdone by a bunch of computer geeks, Toyota and Audi will reveal their own experiments in self-driving cars next week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual Festivus of gadgets not yet ready for primetime. Here's the first look at what Toyota will show, a Lexus LS 600h that can stop, start and steer itself. It's exactly what enthusiasts think Lexus owners have wanted for years — someone to drive for them.
Toyota says it built the 600h to "explore autonomous technologies and high-level driver assistance systems," which may be closer to production that the gear shown here would suggest. Automatic cruise control and lane departure warning systems are already close to standard on luxury cars; several automakers also offer setups that can automatically parallel park. Mercedes has said the next-generation S-Class sedan arriving in 2014 will not only apply the brakes if it senses an imminent crash, but take over steering as well.
All of these technologies will take years to perfect, which is why Google's self-driving car team lobbied for the right to test on public roads in California and Nevada. While Google has said it was interested in working with automakers to build its systems, automakers may prefer to develop their own technology rather than rely on an outside supplier who's never built devices meant for safety-critical use. We'll hear more on Monday.