From Autoblog via Edmunds to Slashgear, the automotive blogosphere is buzzing about an INSECT from Toyota. INSECT is an acronym for “Information Network Social Electric City Transporter,” and, says Edmunds (along with pretty much everybody else who copied the press release,) the vehicle carrying the creepy name “is a single-seater that features facial-recognition technology and behavior prediction, marking the dawn of the car as mind-reader.” The INSECT officially hatched today, 1 ½ subway hours from where I currently live.
As an eye-witness, I can certify that a gullible media has been had.
While still on approach to the Toyota booth at the show, the car professional immediately sees that the INSECT is not for real: It has gullwings.
According to a secret understanding among the world’s car companies, concept cars that will never see series production must be fitted with gullwing doors before they go on display. This saves the expense of resources wasted on researching the insincere thing. Those who are not privvy to secret industry conventions will find that except for the gullwings, the INSECT looks a lot like the COMS single seater electric vehicle offered by Toyota Autobody, because that’s what it is. (Technical data COMS: 5 kW engine, top speed 37 mph, range 31 miles, recharge time 6 hours. Target markets: Pizza delivery, meter maids, young at heart seniors.)
If Autoblog, Slashgear, Edmunds et al would have witnessed the demonstration of the INSECT’s alleged smarts in person, their reporting would have been different. To open the gullwings, one has to stand in front of the apparatus, and, I kid you not, flap the arms. Allegedly, you will be authenticated via face recognition, and the flapping-arms gesture will be interpreted as an “open doors” command. After three attempts and a lot of arm waving, the gullwings flapped open. Only killjoys will remark that the doors only go down to chest height, leaving the legs exposed to the elements, and making access to the apparatus as easy as reaching inside. This is a nice feature for people who don’t want to go through the embarrassing arm waving routine.
While as the owner of a conventional COMS, or even a bicycle, you would have long delivered your Pizza Margarita, as an INSECT owner, you must first establish connectivity between car and smartphone, and then to the “cloud-based Toyota Smart Center.” Then, the destination must be determined via voice commands, and you finally get going. (Don’t even ask how the INSECT could do compute-heavy face- and flapping arms detection while NOT connected to the cloud.)
Just to make sure, I asked a Toyota spokesman whether I need to take this seriously. The answer was a smile, and a “no.”
I was relieved.