Computer on Wheels?

Lexus LS460I‘m not much of an auto guy, but I’m a real sucker for gadgets and the new Lexus has me excited. Toyota released their latest Lexus in Japan at the start of this week and it is amazingly different from any car that has come before. Japanese autos are becoming more and more high-tech and closer and closer to being a computer on wheels. The flagship vehicle for the new Lexus is the LS460. This car is said to have over 7 million lines of code programmed inside (and that is not including the car-navi software!) That is about as much as you’d find inside an aeroplane and controls everything from breaking and steering to temperature and “inflight” comfort. To put that into context, the average Toyota car has about 4 million lines of code.
You can check out some photos of the LS460 on its website but let me give you a run down to some of the cooler functions. When you want to park your car, the Lexus uses sonar to detect the vehicles already parked on the side of the road. By pressing the “parallel parking” button, the car will automatically maneuver your car into the parking space. While I wouldn’t experiment with this when you’re parked next to a Merc, it does sound like pretty practical functionability.

While there has been a lot of Japanese press recently about Toyota designing a car which detects your blood alchohol levels and shuts the car down if the driver is drunk, this one focuses on slightly more “techy” safety features. The inbuilt camera on the steering wheel detects when the driver isn’t looking at the road. The car is constantly monitoring the road in front of you with millimeter wave radar and if it looks like you might potentially crash, it not only flashes a light and sounds a siren, it slows your speed and increases the sensitivity of the steering circle to ease your escape from danger. At the same time, it also adjusts the head rest so that it is positioned directly behind the driver’s head to reduce any potential backlash in the collision.
Besides this doing wonders for lowering the mortality rate on the roads, this will be great for Japanese tech companies. These days all of the focus seems to be on the impact that the digitalization of television/broadcasting will have on Japanese tech makers but it is starting to feel like the increasing digitalization of autos could be even more exciting. The arrival of the hybrid could be just as important as the LCD has been for Japan’s component manufacturers. Yet another reason to stay bullish about the Japanese economy in the long-term. Hazzard a guess as to the total number of motors in the new Lexus. (Hint: the answer is a lot more than that big one that you are thinking about).
If you want a new Lexus, you better be fast. Apparently Toyota had received orders for over 9,000 cars even before the Lexus was released. (Not bad given that the company had only expected to manufacture 10,000 of them this year.)

2 thoughts on “Computer on Wheels?”

  1. Great article. Just one comment though, the old saying that still applies here is that “Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight”.

  2. Too true. And if the system that Fuji2 put together for the T*S*E is any guide, then you are probably right. Japan Inc. doesn’t have a good track record with software efficiency but it wouldn’t surprise me if Toyota – with their background in hardware – is a tougher customer than most. Rumour has it that N*E*C Electronics was hired to design the chip that controls the beast and it processes over 100 bln calculations per second. My friends in the industry tell me that that is about twice as fast as anything they have seen before.

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