Car maker’s software can detect imminent danger and take action.

In the hotly contested race to get self-driving cars on the road, everyone from Uber to Google has a stake. But one company is quietly working on a less flashy option, one that only kicks in if the vehicle is in danger. Even better, their program is a relative youngster compared to the other guys, but may actually hit the streets in full operation sooner.

Toyota's Guardian software can detect imminent danger and take action.

Toyota’s Guardian software can detect imminent danger and take action.

Toyota has released news of its “Guardian” software program that can detect imminent danger and take action. Through multiple sensors on the exterior of the vehicle and cameras that are watching the driver watch the road, Guardian is designed to spot a threat – such as a car coming towards you from somewhere outside of your peripheral vision – and determine if you’ve taken notice or not. If the driver doesn’t appear to see the threat, the software can take control of the vehicle and take evasive action.

Guardian has some capabilities that the fully autonomous car projects don’t have, namely plans for interaction with the driver. It might be explaining why the vehicle took over, or simply pointing out a road hazard to the driver. It would be lovely if the car could somehow nag drivers until they put down their cell phones, but perhaps that will come along in a later software update.

Another plus in Guardian’s favor is the fact that researchers are reportedly far closer to making this a reality than autonomous vehicles, meaning its safety capabilities are more likely to happen sooner. Of course, the most useful feature is that the engineers are looking ahead to the day when Guardian is just another in-car feature, like Bluetooth and OnStar, rather than an entirely separate class of vehicles, meaning far more drivers – and the people around them – can benefit from the technology.