TOKYO -- With the click of a button, our Toyota test driver lets go of the steering wheel and sits back as the white Lexus GS merges onto the crowded Bayshore Route of Tokyo's Shuto Expressway, weaving between cars and changing lanes in an impressive display of autonomous driving.
Toyota's name for the technology -- Mobility Teammate, with the emphasis on team -- offers a telling insight into how the automaker aims to differentiate itself from rivals in the coming age of self-driving cars.
No hyperbole about driverless convenience, the triumph of super-computer intelligence or the frailty of human judgment. Toyota's vision of the future keeps customers in the driver's seat even if their hands aren't always on the wheel.
"Interactions between drivers and cars should mirror those between close friends who share a common purpose, sometimes watching over each other and sometimes helping each other," Toyota says of its Mobility Teammate system. "This approach acknowledges the utility of automated driving technologies while maintaining the fun experience of driving itself."
Indeed, its Mobility Teammate logo depicts the silhouette of a human and a robot, each with one hand on a steering wheel.