Toyota's Doing Mobility Stuff – Some a Little Creepy, Rest Kind of Fun

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
toyota s doing mobility stuff some a little creepy rest kind of fun

When an automaker discusses mobility, they’re not really talking about anything specific. The term has been established within the industry as a catch-all phrase for electrification, app-based services, autonomous programs, data acquisition, robotics, and whatever other ideas that don’t fit neatly within a company’s core product line. Providing the best example of the term’s nebulous nature this week was Toyota, which showcased a glut of mobility projects for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games — as well as toying with the idea of handing over vehicle data to the Japanese government.

Let’s start with the concerning aspects before we get into the goofy stuff.

On Tuesday, the Toyota Mobility Foundation said it would be holding a conference with the Akaiwa City, the Okayama Prefecture, Okayama University, and the local Akaiwa City Police to discuss the possibility of using connected-car data to inform decisions on road maintenance. While a worthy cause, the inclusion of the police suggests that won’t be the only potential usage of the data. We prattle on about the darker aspects of vehicular connectedness semi-regularly and, while we know it’s not as exciting as how much horsepower the new Corvette is going to have, these kinds of advancements are much more likely to impact your daily life in the coming years.

Toyota believes that giving the government the ability to tap into on-board camera systems and locational data could help save cities loads of cash by maximizing road maintenance effectiveness, but it also opens up a pandora’s box. It may not be their intent but automakers are making all kinds of moves that are help paving the road for worldwide surveillance. Between your internet history, smartphone data, and connected-car information, someone somewhere is always going to know what you’re doing at any given moment. And, while this wouldn’t be a big deal if we could implicitly trust every company and government across the globe, we know that’s ridiculous. At the very least, we hope Toyota takes its customers’ privacy into consideration during the meeting — someone certainly should.

The rest of Toyota’s mobility announcement served as a way to show off a little before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Most of the products shown off were things we’ve items we’ve seen before but the company has been teasing a few new ones over the last few days. Angling for an inclusive and eco-friendly vibe with the “Mobility of All” tagline, the automaker brought up its fuel cell bus, autonomous e-Palette shuttle, a three-wheeled Segway-scooter knockoff (the “Walking Area BEV”), JPN taxi, a handful of robots ( some great), and its new APM (Accessible People Mover). The e-Palette and APM are both said to be on hand at the 2020 games to provide transport for athletes and fans while the rest will be available for consumers to ogle and/or interact with.

The brunt of these inventions seem mostly functional but a couple maned to coax out a smirk. Toyota’s FSR: Field Support Robot is an autonomous box that’s supposed to follow Olympic staff members to cart around javelins and shot puts. But the automaker’s promotional materials didn’t make it seem terribly impressive. There were also two horrendous robotic mascot designs (male and female) that lack the useful qualities of the service-based robots Toyota similarly plans on bringing to the event. The mascot robot uses a camera system to interact with attendees via a arm movements and various facial expressions.

However, my favorite new mobility project was the T-TR1 — because it was the funniest. Essentially a remote-controlled screen with cameras mounted on top, the device is supposed to allow individuals to access events that would be difficult to navigate with a wheelchair. This sounds like a wonderful idea until you’ve seen similar devices in action.

Years ago, I attended a trade event in San Diego and there were half a dozen iPads on sticks milling around. While the interface allowed you to speak with people, most of which were not disabled and simply wanted to try or promote the devices, they were hilariously clumsy. Their remote pilots sometimes disconnected or got hung up on carpeting, stranding the platform in the middle of a throughway, and had a habit of bumping into other patrons. Thankfully, their molasses-slow pace made physical encounters a minor inconvenience. The T-TR1 is larger and much faster, setting the stage for more memorable encounters. And, since the prototypes aren’t autonomous, expect to see at least one video of a T-TR1 slamming into something at the 2020 Olympics at full speed.

Toyota seems to be providing an even mix of useful technologies still in their infancy, go-nowhere applications, and disasters waiting to happen for the 2020 Olympics. While we’re more excited about the latter, the former inclusions should be commended — as mobility programs are rarely worthy of more than a shrug. It would have been nice to see them pushing more cars, however. The most auto-focused items to be featured in Tokyo next year are free rides in autonomous vehicles, a couple of old concept vehicles, and an appearance from the Toyota Mirai.

[Images: Toyota Motor Corp.]

Join the conversation
  • Retrocrank Retrocrank on Jul 23, 2019

    Prattle on about privacy but it's a Brave New World. Just a few decades ago, nobody except a true visionary or an eccentric crank would have accepted the idea that people don't carry cash or submit their private information (credit card numbers for example) to somebody else in any version other than a paper trail. The time will come where "the benefits" of controlling traffic, tracking wayward spouses and other partners, monitoring policing effectiveness (and social applications) will be seen to be far more important that antiquated Revolution-era ideas about personal freedom and liberty. We're already halfway down that road anyway.

  • Spookiness Spookiness on Jul 23, 2019

    First things first, put Android Auto in your infotainment systems.

  • ChristianWimmer Sunak has apparently done this because his political party has lost so much support. Once the brainless masses flock to his political party again the trap will spring shut and bam - the ICE ban will be attempted to get pushed through even quicker.Honestly, Europe right now is a complete CR** HOLE thanks to the EU.Did anyone hear of the EU’s plans to make driving even more unattractive? A French Green Party politician introduced some really perverted ideas under the guise of “Vision Zero” (Zero deaths from driving in the EU) and of course the climate hysteria…1) If you just received your driver’s license you can not drive faster than 90 km/h - basically you’re stuck behind trucks on highways or can’t even overtake them on normal roads.2) If you are 60 years old, your license is only valid for 7 more years. If you are 70 years old, 5 years. If you’re 80 years old, 2 years. You are required to “renew” your license (and pay for it yourself) which will also determine if you are still fit to drive.3) The standard B driver’s license here allows you to drive vehicles up to 3.5 tons in weight. Under this idiotic proposal from that French nutjob, those 3.5 tons will decrease to 1.8 tons meaning that you can’t legally even drive a Tesla Model 3…
  • ToolGuy I blame Canada.
  • Syke This is one of those days when you come up with an article that I just live to comment on. I'm retired from (but still working at three half days a week - retirement was boring) Richmond Honda House, a Honda/Yamaha/Can-Am/Sea Doo dealership. No, I'm not a mechanic. I'm the guy who handles all the recall/warranty claims. Which between the three major brands, and a couple of small Asian brands is enough to keep me busy for about fourteen business hours split across Tuesday thru Thursday. Yes, the Spyders are reliable, but when they do break down they can be a nightmare due to you have to have a laptop plugged into one to do most kinds of service. First hint: You absolutely do not want to do massive aftermarket sound system upgrades to a Spyder. We've had nightmares with them in the past. I swear half our original customers back in the 2008-2010 period bought theirs to turn into a three-wheeled boom box, which would invariably cause voltage fluctuations in the electrical system, thus driving the various black boxes wonky and causing all sorts of problems.Those of you who decry computerization in modern automobiles will find that the Spyder is even more so. I've noticed that the Spyder has gotten a lot better since Bombardier dropped the original V-twin engine (same one that Aprilia used on their 1000's when they first came into the country) in favor of the current triple. Mechanical repairs to the drivetrain have definitely gone down.Used? The more recent models seem to have good reliability. No, not as good as the current Gold Wing, or any generation Gold Wing for that matter, but definitely within acceptable parameters. The older ones, especially the original 2008-2010 models, I'd recommend staying away from. How bad? During the 2008 recession, when motorcycle dealers were desperately hanging on, my office at Honda House was the single best cash flow for the company, totally because of warranty claims and recalls from the original models. Yes, Bombardier has gotten an awful lot better.Oh yeah, the company itself it decent to deal with on a business and support level. From my office, they're my favorite of the three, slightly ahead of Yamaha, and a night and day improvement over Honda. All you have to remember is that you're not dealing with Canadians, you're dealing with Quebecois. Yes, there's a difference, I was married to one for thirteen years.
  • Sgeffe How does this compare to something like the Polaris Slingshot?
  • Lou_BC I just don't like the C - pillar lines. The rear window doesn't flow with the roofline.