By on July 23, 2019

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.]

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2 Comments on “Toyota’s Doing Mobility Stuff – Some a Little Creepy, Rest Kind of Fun...”


  • avatar
    retrocrank

    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.

  • avatar
    spookiness

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


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