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New Toyota tech unit promises world’s safest drive

FILE PHOTO: The logo of automaker Toyota is seen on a car in France

TOKYO (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp unveiled its Woven Planet research unit at a virtual media event on Friday, promising to deliver the world’s “safest mobility” as competition heats up to develop self-driving and connected cars.

In the online presentation, dubbed “The Genesis”, Woven Planet executives provided few hints into specific features in the pipeline, but said a new assisted-driving system would be mounted on the company’s passenger cars by the end of this year.

The company also said it would be ready to unveil a fully self-driving prototype “in the near future”, without elaborating.

As traditional automakers face competition from the likes of Apple, Amazon and Sony, Toyota is looking to marry Woven Planet’s Silicon Valley approach with its storied Toyota Production System manufacturing process to develop the next generation of cars.

Fully self-driven cars are still likely to be years away, but rival General Motors Co this month made a splash at the virtual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with a fully-autonomous all-electric flying Cadillac concept, while Chinese search engine operator Baidu unveiled a partnership with local car brand Geely.

Led by ex-Google roboticist James Kuffner, Woven Planet also says it has the advantage of scale in collecting data – key to developing artificial intelligence-aided software – through the tens of millions of Toyota cars on the road worldwide. Toyota retook the crown as world’s best-selling automaker in 2020, unseating Volkswagen AG.

“This is really only the beginning,” Kuffner said in a pre-recorded presentation, where he introduced key executives from the Woven Planet Group, including founding family scion Daisuke Toyoda, son of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.

“We’re just getting started with our technology and innovation to change the world,” Kuffner said.

Toyota last year unveiled plans to build a prototype “city of the future” called Woven City at the base of Mount Fuji powered by hydrogen fuel cells that would be a laboratory for autonomous cars.

(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu. Additional reporting by Maki Shiraki.; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Mark Potter)

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