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Lexus's 'advanced active safety research vehicle' can drive itself, but don't call it a self-driving car

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At CES today, Toyota's Lexus division just took the wraps off its "advanced active safety research vehicle," a car based on the company's luxury LS sedan that combines troves of gadgets and technology to effectively drive itself.

Is this a workaround for the legal and ethical debate?

Except it doesn't: though the AASRV employs many of the same tricks as Google's well-known self-driving cars like a roof-mounted 360-degree LIDAR system, Lexus insists that its entry is more about "an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving," not a car that can simply drive itself while passengers kick back. Other not-for-sale features include three high-def cameras capable of detecting traffic signals from over 160 yards away, front- and side-facing radar, and a flurry of sensors that can precisely track the orientation of the car at all times — the kind of precision you need when you're taking over for a driver on a 12-foot-wide highway lane. By all appearances, the car can drive itself when called upon, but Lexus wants the driver to stay alert and actively involved. It might be a way to make sure that the ultimately responsibility for safe operation of the car is in the driver's hands, not the car's, in the hope of stemming tough legal and ethical debates as self-driving technology becomes more advanced.

Though there's no indication of when we might see an autonomous Lexus on the road, it's telling that yet another major automaker is throwing its hat into the self-driving ring — though Google operates some Toyota and Lexus cars as part of its self-driving fleet, they're not built in partnership with Toyota, so the AASRV represents a new-from-the-ground-up internal effort.