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With its new safety feature, changing lanes in the Lexus LS500h is a hands-free affair, but you're ultimately still held accountable for piloting it.

30 Nov 2017

Thriving to set a new benchmark is Lexus' latest flagship model, the Lexus LS500h. But the car isn't trying to set a new standard with its already smooth 3.5-litre V6 powerplant or its unmistakably sleek and aggressive-looking sheet metal. That, it has already achieved.

Icons on the instrument panel light up in green to inform you that the safety features have been activated
Instead, the carmaker's goal in sight and utmost priority is safety.

The Lexus LS500h that I drove came with an advanced safety system that allows you to perform lane changes seamlessly without having to control the steering wheel or squeeze any pedals.

Dubbed the Lexus Safety System + A, this package specifically includes Lexus CoDrive - an advanced driving assist technology that consists of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) as well as Lane Change Assist (LCA).

Similar to Lexus, Nissan has also tested the next generation ProPILOT - an autonomous prototype technology - on a modified Infiniti Q50 sports sedan in Tokyo, Japan. This said technology, which combines Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control, has been featured in the Nissan Serena, X-Trail and will be joined by the Qashqai in 2018.

Clearly, where Lexus stands apart from its peers is through the LCA, a feature that is currently road-legal in Japan only.

Although changing lanes in the Lexus LS500h is a hands-free affair, you're still responsible for piloting it
Using this LCA feature is as easy and clear as its name suggests. You will just have to activate the LTA feature. What the LCA does is support lane changes by monitoring the surrounding road environment and, at the appropriate timing, controls steering, as well as acceleration and deceleration.

However, LTA comes into play by ensuring lane changes are done smoothly and safely via line detection by way of a camera that's located at the front of the car.

Thus, both of these features work hand in hand.

I drove from Pacifico Yokohama convention centre to the Daikoku Parking Area, via the metropolitan highway. This distance of 10.6km allowed me to try out the Lexus Safety System + A several times. I activated the features by way of pressing the buttons on the steering wheel. Once the icons on the instrument panel lit up in green, I initiated the signal indicators. This action allows the system to detect if I need to move out to my right or left.

Driving on the metropolitan highway of Tokyo allowed me to try the new safety feature several times
A beeping sound can be heard before the lane change manoeuvre is done autonomously and seamlessly.

Intriguingly, it's not just limited to lane changes. The system is able to manoeuvre through bends intuitively and safely, too. As a safety precaution, however, the system will require you to adjust the steering wheel after a period of non-operation or when approaching narrower and tighter bends.

Should you decide to ignore the audio and visual alert, the car will gently decelerate and activate the hazard lights and horn to inform surrounding traffic. Of course, I was too scared to try it out. Hence, my hands were constantly hovering around the steering wheel to make sure I was ready to mildly adjust it when the system required me to.

According to Lexus, to avoid any misunderstanding and prevent overconfidence, this technology isn't referred to as 'automated driving'. Instead, the carmaker dubs it as 'vehicles equipped with advanced driving assist technology'.

The test centre will have seven 360-degree close circuit cameras, which will stream real-time footage to a monitoring and evaluation system
As such, this system presented by Lexus enables SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Level Two partial automation. Currently, the Audi Artificial Intelligence (AI) traffic jam pilot is the world's first system that enables SAE Level Three conditional automation.

There are a total of six levels of driving automation, from no automation to full automation.

It seems automation is also on its way to becoming a reality in Singapore. The first autonomous vehicle test centre was recently opened for self-driving vehicles in Jurong West, with plans to roll out autonomous transportation services in three new towns from 2022.

This test centre will put self-driving vehicles through their paces, with a test circuit replicating Singapore's road, traffic and different weather conditions.

Automation or not, I would still prefer manhandling the car I'm driving. After all, cars are made for driving enjoyment and I trust myself more than a man-made automated system.
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