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Toyota will offer rides in self-driving Lexus next summer

This gussied-up LS sedan will demonstrate the automaker's work in developing Level-4 autonomous technology.

Rides in Toyota's Platform 4 autonomous test vehicle will be offered to the public in Tokyo next summer.

Toyota/Roadshow

Despite seemingly endless buzz in the automotive industry, self-driving cars are still far from a reality. Yes, features like Cadillac's Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot are inching us closer to an autonomous future. But for all practical purposes, right now there are no cars that are able to actually drive themselves -- you can't just punch in a destination and take a nap.

Of course, full autonomy is coming, it's likely just a question of when it will be ready for primetime. Numerous automakers and supplier firms are hard at work developing the technology, and this includes industry heavyweight Toyota.

On Thursday, the Toyota Research Institute announced it will begin public demonstration rides next summer in its Platform 4 test vehicle. The program will run in Tokyo from July to September next year -- timed to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, during which the automaker is showing off a whole bunch of new tech.

Based on a fifth-generation Lexus LS sedan, the P4 autonomous driving test vehicle was shown publicly last January at CES in Las Vegas. This car illustrates the progress Toyota has made in creating a vehicle that offers Level-4 autonomous driving capability. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, these systems should be able to perform "all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver fails to respond appropriately to a request to intervene." In short, the P4 should pretty much handle itself, but a human driver will always be inside for two important reasons: to take control if necessary; and to comply with Japanese law.

Rather than just having this car trundle around a parking lot, Toyota is making sure its underlying technology is suitably challenged. The P4 will be operated in Tokyo's busy Odaiba district, a waterfront area of the megalopolis. This location is rife with tall glass buildings and traffic lights as well as plenty of pedestrians and other traffic. If the car can handle this hectic environment, it will likely work in any city in the world.

So far, Toyota has evaluated the P4 on a closed-course facility in Michigan. There, it replicated some of the Odaiba area's most challenging infrastructure. Beyond this, the software has been tested Los Altos, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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