Lexus has equipped the research vehicle with a broad array of sensors (Photo: Arjen Bongard)

LAS VEGAS -- A research vehicle based on the Lexus LS showed the direction safety technologies are likely to take in coming years, Toyota said.

The Japanese carmaker showed a vehicle that is equipped with a range of futuristic-looking technologies aimed at making driving safer and at times relieving the driver of some responsibilities.

But Toyota stopped short of introducing a driverless car at the annual CES consumer electronics fair here.

"In our pursuit of developing more advanced automated technologies, we believe the driver must be fully engaged," said Mark Templin, Toyota group vice president and general manager of its Lexus premium-car division.

Templin said autonomous driving is only part of the story. "Our vision is a car equipped with an intelligent, always-attentive co-pilot whose skills contribute to safer driving."

Lexus competitor Audi showed journalists an almost-ready version of what it called piloted driving. Using an array of sensors, Audi lets a driver take his hands off the wheel and his foot off the gas while the car maintains a steady course on a highway. The systems could be in production before the end of the decade, Audi executives said.

The Lexus research vehicle also has a battery of sensors and automated control systems that observe, process and respond to the car's surroundings. Included are GPS. stereo cameras, radar and laser tracking.

Templin, speaking to reporters during the CES, stressed that new automated technologies should make driving simpler and enhance his perception of the environment around the car. That would improve decision-making processes and provide him with better safety skills.

Said the Lexus boss: "We believe a more skillful driver is a safer driver."