Not too long ago, I visited with Toyota in Tokyo to learn about their plans to transform from an automotive company into a mobility company – concerning themselves with all of the different ways that people need to get around, and not just cars and trucks anymore. As part of this massive initiative, Toyota now plans on building out an entire prototype city of the future.
The company has announced it will create its Woven City at the foot of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji, on a 175-acre parcel of land. The plan is to build the small city in such a way that it can be used as a testbed for all kinds of new technologies, including autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes, alternative energy, and artificial intelligence.
The city is being designed by Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels pf Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), whose team also worked on 2 World Trade Center, the LEGO House, and Google’s headquarters. Sustainability will be a key component of its design, from its construction materials and techniques, to its energy and food supplies.
At this point, Toyota hasn’t shared too many specifics, but the city will act as what the company calls a “living laboratory,” which will also test things like a hydrogen-powered infrastructure, and high-tech construction and manufacturing technologies.
In many ways, this prototype community is what Walt Disney originally envisioned for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), though we all know that project ended up turning into a World’s Fair style theme park, rather than a living and working city. Toyota’s project looks to be much more of a true research community, initially starting with 2000 residents, and then growing from there.
Of course, with a project this ambitious, Toyota will partner up with other companies who want to test out their technologies as well, and to that end they are accepting inquiries from potential partners on the Woven City website.
Toyota hasn’t given any indication yet as to how long it might take to build Woven City, but the groundbreaking is set for 2021. I’m really excited to see this come together, and what kind of innovation comes out of the city of the future.
I recently attended the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, and among the numerous displays of production and concept cars, I spotted the booth for the Toyota Boshoku Corporation, who makes seating, interior, and exterior components for vehicles. There, they were showing off a very interesting glimpse into the future of vehicle interiors – specifically for autonomous cars.
Developed in collaboration with AISIN, Denso and Tokai Rika, and Todoya Gosei, the MX191 Concept packs in more than 45 innovations to create a whole new experience inside of the cabin. The “Concierge-in-vehicle” interior is designed to adjust the configuration of its seating based on the needs of its occupants. Since the future may very well include self-driving cars, the idea that you need to face the front window and the steering wheel could go away. The MX191 Concept can turn its interior into a space for relaxation, work, or play, while the car does the hard work of getting you to your destination.
Among its many features, the MX191 has a system that can prepare the vehicle for its occupants. Simply push a button on your smartphone, and it will turn on the climate control and clean the cabin air while the car is still charging up in your parking space. As you approach the car, its privacy e-glass windows become transparent, the doors open, and the front seats rotate outward for ease of entry.
Depending on the drive mode selected, the driver’s seat either remains in a conventional position, can push back to provide added legroom. Beyond that, there are several different seating configurations, some which provide greater comfort for each individual, and others to encourage conversation.
The system also envisions heart rate sensors for each passenger, and would automatically adjust its seats into a reclined position if an occupant is getting sleepy. Infrared sensors automatically adjust the vehicle climate control system based on each person’s body temperature as well. One big safety innovation is the airbag system that would be built into each seat, enveloping passengers from the front or sides depending on the direction of an impact.
There are lots of other forward-thinking features for comfort and safety as well. The video below features an in-depth explanation of all of the MX191’s features and functions, along with a demonstration of the adjustable seating system:
At this point, there aren’t any production vehicles that are ready to include all of the features of the MX191, but there are certainly elements which are already out there, like the vehicle preconditioning found in some EVs, infrared climate control, already found in some Lexus vehicles, and the swivel-out seats for entry and exit, which appear to be similar to those coming to the 2021 Toyota Yaris.
I’m here in Tokyo this week for the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, and while here, I stopped by the new headquarters for the Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development (TRI-AD) to check out some of the technologies the company and their partners are working on.
Among the many futuristic machines on display during my visit is a specialized robot which will be in use during the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics right here in Tokyo.
The Toyota Field Support Robot (aka FSR) is designed to assist the on-field staff during sporting events by retrieving and carrying cumbersome objects like shotputs, javelins, and and discuses thrown during field events.
These specialized robots can automatically follow a member of the field crew out to the location of a tossed object, where it awaits its payload. The human then loads the item into the robot, and then it autonomously drives the item back to the staging area, avoiding people and obstacles automatically along the way. The idea here is to reduce the time it takes to retrieve these heavy and awkward objects, as well as to demonstrate autonomous vehicle technologies.
In the demonstration I saw, they had the robot limited to a slow speed for safety reasons, but in the field, they can drive up to 20 km/h, and operate for up to 2 hours on a charge.
The robots come in two different designs – one that looks like a miniature version of Toyota’s autonomous e-Palette EV, and the other that looks like a classic Japanese taxi cab – which I think looks awesome.
While I think it would be even cooler if the robot could pick up items by itself, TRI-AD say the idea here is to foster partnership between humans and robots, rather than to replace humans. This is a key pillar of Toyota’s philosophy for the integration of automation and artificial intelligence into its business and the world as a whole.
Keep an eye on the field events during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games to see the Field Support Robot in action.