Toyota and Lexus make some of the best cars on the market, and they’re getting even better. But despite their lauded safety and reliability, they’re not usually known for being as high-tech as Tesla’s EVs. However, after an upgrade, Toyota and Lexus are catching up to Tesla in semiautonomous driving technology.
What is Level 2 anyway?
In the world of autonomous cars, there’s no such thing as a truly self-driving vehicle yet. Although many companies are experimenting, developing, or even advertising cars as self-driving, that’s not the reality. This is because there are six levels of automation. Level 0 is the first level, and it means no automation, which is just regular driving.
Each level afterward indicates a car is more capable of self-driving than the prior level. So, for example, a fully self-driving car would be Level 5. But unfortunately, cars for sale in the United States have hit only Level 2 thus far.
Though Level 2 seems like a low level compared to what’s possible, cars capable of Level 2 today are generally impressive. And so far in America, only two automakers are selling cars capable of Level 2 — Tesla and General Motors — according to MotorTrend.
A look at Toyota’s competition
By now, many folks may have heard of the controversy surrounding Tesla’s Autopilot. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly assume Tesla EVs are fully self-driving. However, Autopilot, like any other Level 2 semiautonomous driving tech, requires the driver’s attention. Without that, allowing Autopilot to drive the Tesla can be hazardous.
But Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise are highly advanced technology systems. When used properly, they can do intelligent things like steer the car, accelerate and decelerate, and navigate certain highways without needing a driver’s hands on the wheel or feet on the pedals.
There are some differences between Autopilot and Super Cruise, though. Namely, Super Cruise uses lidar — light detection and ranging, an advanced scanning technology — to gauge distance. On the other hand, Autopilot uses a less expensive form of scanning technology. It uses cameras and radar, but soon it will use only advanced cameras through something the EV maker calls Tesla Vision.
How Toyota and Lexus are finally catching up to Tesla
That said, Toyota and its luxury brand, Lexus, have finally joined the Level 2 club since the automaker has equipped two models with the technology. It’s in the newest Toyota Mirai and Lexus LS in Japan. This tech upgrade will be available stateside, too, but only in the LS. MotorTrend reports that Toyota will bring the newest version of the LS to America this fall.
The LS will be equipped with Lexus Teammate, and like other Level 2 tech, Teammate will use advanced sensors and software to drive the car hands-free. But again, Toyota isn’t trying to trick anyone here: The automaker made sure to mention that drivers will still need to pay attention while using Teammate.
In fact, a camera will monitor drivers and detect if they aren’t paying attention, MotorTrend reports. If a driver doesn’t respond to alerts in a certain amount of time, Teammate will safely stop the car, turn the hazard lights on, contact emergency services, and unlock the doors. Plus, like Tesla Autopilot, Teammate will get over-the-air updates, which may help improve its functionality.