An Elite Car for the Greater Good

Meet the luxury self-driving car aiming to make our roads safer

Posted: May 28, 2020

Want a glimpse of how Lexus is exploring automated driving? Peek into an advanced research institute in Michigan and meet the P4—a sleek prototype based on the fifth-generation Lexus LS 500h. But hidden beneath its aerodynamic roofline, the specifically modified P4 has an advanced array of automated technology to enhance navigation and driving.

The P4 has cameras and sensors that use radar and laser-based scanning to create a highly perceptive, 360-degree field of vision. Using its extraordinary ability to continuously perceive a constantly changing driving environment, a high performance computer in the trunk of the research vehicle seamlessly translates visual data into quick, natural driving actions.

This heightened combination of computer vision and automation is designed to allow the P4 to avoid crashes and, when desired, literally drive itself—with a calculated precision that aims to provide an increased level of safety not just to passengers but to nearby vehicles or pedestrians.

Autonomous driving is rated on a 0 to 5 scale. A Level 1 vehicle has automation that’s always controlled or shared by the driver, such as a car with cruise control. Recently produced Lexus models come with Level 2 automation: driver-controlled vehicles with active safety features like Lane Tracing Assist* that can automatically manipulate the car in response to certain detected conditions, such as a car drifting dangerously close to another lane.

If we can enhance driving safety with Level 2 automation, imagine the greater good of someday having a P4 watching out for us on the road. The P4 is being used to develop a Level 4 automatic vehicle—a completely autonomous “Chauffeur” driving system that can perform any driving task within specific conditions.

And these conditions are ambitious, ranging from city street simulations to varied weather conditions (because it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that our future will not be an unchanging vista of sunny, open roads without a pedestrian or another driver in sight). For the inevitable rainy or foggy days, for the pedestrian staring at a smartphone while distractedly approaching a crosswalk, and for all the other unforeseen people and places coming our way, Lexus pursues cutting-edge research and technology to help protect people down the road.

Aiming this high means pushing the current limits of technology. For example, while humans instinctively understand the hazard of a pedestrian stepping off the curb while absorbed in the latest gadget, it’s currently difficult for computer vision to observe these subtleties. Which is why, for now, the instinctive calculations of humans and the rigorous calculations of artificial intelligence make for such good driving partners.

But our research envisions the day when ever smarter and more technologically advanced offspring of the P4 allow human drivers to choose between the excitement of driving ourselves (with future Lexus safety systems designed to protect us) and leaving the driving in superhuman hands—protecting not just ourselves but also those we encounter along the way.

By Gillian Epstein and Brian Gill