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Toyota says its new ACC is better at keeping distance (Photo: Toyota)

Toyota plans to launch a series of new automated driving technologies by the middle of the decade, as more automakers intensify efforts to lighten drivers' loads.

The Japanese carmaker said it has developed a next-generation advanced driving support system based on a combination of new cruise control and active lane-keeping technologies. Toyota's cooperative-adaptive cruise control wirelessly communicates with a vehicle in front to maintain distance, while lane trace control aids steering to keep a vehicle in its lane.

Toyota said it plans to introduce its Automated Highway Driving Assist (AHDA) "in the mid 2010s." The technology will make sure the driver stays in control of his vehicle at all times, the company said.

The carmaker will conduct tests of the system on the Shuto Expressway near Tokyo next week and will exhibit AHDA at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress taking place there next week as well.

Autonomous vehicles have become a bigger automotive priority in recent years as traffic congestion makes driving more difficult and new technologies put the goal within easier reach. Toyota also cited aging populations as a factor in developing more sophisticated driver-assistance systems.

In recent months, Mercedes-Benz showed it is technically possible for a modified S-Class limousine to cover a 100km itinerary over mostly secondary roads completely on its own. Nissan announced it will have commercially viable autonomous driving technology in several vehicles by 2020. And Audi in early 2013 showed journalists a functioning prototype of its "piloted driving" technology, which includes the ability for the car to self-park in a specially adapted parking structure. The German premium carmaker expects the systems to be in showrooms by the end of the decade.

Toyota's cooperative-adaptive cruise control doesn't use standard millimeter-wave radar to detect other vehicles. Instead, it deploys 700-MHz band vehicle-to-vehicle ITS communications to keep the car at a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Toyota said this system reduces unnecessary acceleration and deceleration.

The carmaker's lane trace controlcouples the same millimeter-wave radar with high-performance cameras to make sure the car stays in its lane. The system adjusts the vehicle’s steering angle, driving torque and braking force when necessary.