A Vision of the Future- Toyota’s ‘Concept-i’ Vehicles
One year ago, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toyota unveiled their ‘Concept-i’ car, and around Thanksgiving, they added two more vehicles to the line-up in time for the Tokyo Motor Show. Concept-i is Toyota’s interpretation of the future of personal transport and mobility and takes us around thirty years beyond the present – but that doesn’t mean Concept-i is a simple ‘wish-list’ of things Toyota thinks would be cool to have in a car, nor its presentation an exhibition of smoke, mirrors and special effects – oh no… Impressively, all of the concepts seen in the vehicles are things that we humans already know how to build and create, so while the tech may currently be too expensive to put into a car, or more basic than the visions Toyota provides – the notion that we could see all three of the machines you’re about to read about in the real world of the 2040’s is both eminently possible and plausible. If Toyota is on the money with their predictions, however, we won’t think of these vehicles as machines – possibly not even as possessions – as one of the main things the company seeks to change with Concept-i is the relationship between car and driver itself.
This new relationship is facilitated by ‘Yui’– the crucial link that brings driver, car, passengers and outside world together that Toyota has described as the soul of the machine. Essentially Yui acts as a go-between for you and the car’s more mechanical components, and not unlike Siri, Alexa or Cortana you can simply tell him (or her – we’ve heard both male and female voices used across the three vehicles so far) what you want and Yui makes it happen. However, Yui is also capable of detecting facial expressions and reading tone of voice, then drawing conclusions from such cues. As a result over time, the car would get to know you (and anyone else it is introduced to) personally and anticipate their needs, tastes and wants, taking things to the next level when compared to cellphone assistants and the like. Toyota hopes that in turn Concept-i owners would see their vehicle not as a tool but as a companion, and build a relationship with it based on trust and loyalty – like a family pet perhaps – with you, Yui and your vehicle working as a team as you go about everyday life. What’s more, just as you’d look after and care for your new buddy, the car and Yui can look after you through a range of what we’ll call ‘gestures’. These gestures could have a number of motives, including concerns over safety (such as offering to drive autonomously if it sees that you’re tired or stressed) usefulness and assistance (like finding detours around traffic or a nearby gas station on the fly), or even simple acts of friendship (such as picking out the perfect playlist to get your day started as you head to work, or making conversation to liven up a long drive). And just like companies such as Google and Facebook do today to ensure you see ads that will interest you as you surf the web, anything Yui suggests would be further informed by ‘big data’ to make sure that it is relevant to you and the current situation.
Technical facts and figures for the family vehicle first seen at CES 2017 seem to be sparse, but that’s understandable given that it probably takes the biggest step forward of the three, and at this point would still be about a quarter-century from launch. However, Toyota also added the Concept-i Ride and Concept-i Walk to the lineup at the 20217 Tokyo Motor Show – two vehicles which not only represent the company’s take on the future of urban personal transport but also aim to help groups who may face mobility issues (such as wheelchair users and seniors). The concept-i ride could be the next evolution of the Japanese Kei-car or ultra-compacts like the Smart ForTwo or Toyota’s own IQ. It should be very easy to park at around two feet shorter than the aforementioned iQ, but the vehicle can also park itself if you want it to, and Toyota claims that wheelchair users can get in and out of Concept-i Ride even when using a regular parking space. Add in a range of 100 to 150km (62 to 93 miles) on a single charge and you get quite the potent little city-slicker – the principal party-piece of which is probably the extra-mobile and power adjustable driver’s seat. It’s centrally located but slides left and right too, enabling the driver to get in and out on either side – while the act of driving is made easier by the central driving position and pillar-less wrap-around windshield, with visibility and on-road positioning becoming even less of an issue than in current cars. Of course, Yui comes along for the ride too, offering autonomous drive whenever you request it, an extra pair of eyes and ears on the road, and the ability to communicate with others via exterior graphical display bars that are seen on all three vehicles. The cabin feels bigger than you might expect as well – there’s room for a passenger thanks to a fold-out seat behind that of the driver, and a retracting storage solution large enough for a folded wheelchair. This extra space comes courtesy of Concept-I Ride’s lack of conventional controls such as a steering wheel, foot pedals or gear shifter… The latter quirk is easily explained by the all-electric motor (which would have no gears to shift), while the pedals and wheel are replaced by joysticks built into the driver’s seat.
Things don’t have to stop there either, as you can then hop on your Concept-i Walk and cruise through pedestrianized areas. The key difference when compared to other similar vehicles – which require the user to shift their body weight to control heading and speed – is that Concept-i Walk again uses a joystick to produce movement. At the same time its three wheels and variable wheelbase – which gets longer as you go faster – would offer more stability than the currently-available competition and as a result, seniors and those with minor mobility issues should find the device to be very useful addition to their lives – but in truth anyone who can stand should be able to use the vehicle to its full extent. As Concept-i Walk is designed to work in and around foot traffic speed is limited to around 4mph, while range would be between six and twelve miles – but as it’s no wider than the average person’s shoulder width and shorter than the average stride length, amazingly this little marvel should take up less sidewalk space than someone who is actually walking! This makes Concept-i Walk great for busy urban environments, and users should find that Yui is equally at home wandering a shopping mall as it is weaving through highway traffic. Your AI friend will again keep you safe and make suggestions on routes, purchases, music etc., while the graphical display bars return to allow you to signal your intentions and otherwise communicate with pedestrians. The final clever little touch is what appears to be a small projection device mounted in the front of the machine, that can provide a Heads-Up Display to its operator by reflecting information off of nearby surfaces such as windows.
We’ve said this before we’re sure, but with Yui and the whole Concept-i… concept (for want of a better term), Toyota once again has us very excited about
the future and what the company may bring to it. The best part of all is that the future may be closer than you think – while as a whole Concept-i is a vision of mobility from thirty years in the future, elements of the technology and features on display could begin to be implemented into road-going vehicles as early as 2020 – and we certainly hope that means the countdown to Yui’s arrival, is on….