At CES today, Toyota pulled back the covers on a brand new concept – the Toyota Concept-i. Arriving in roughly the form factor of a Prius from 2020, the new concept takes the idea of fully autonomous driving to the extreme. In addition, the car has a personality and gets to know the driver in order to better support the lifestyle of the driver.
Tracking heart rate, frequent destinations, favorite foods … Toyota is effectively creating the vehicle equivalent of the smartphone. It’s your go-to device for getting you from place to place, but it not only serves as a utility — it uses the built-in advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI), named Yui, to support the driver and even predict what the driver needs.
Thinly veiled shots were taken at Tesla, who is by all measures the leader in autonomous driving in production vehicles. Toyota mapped out a staggered approach that is split into two major phases named Guardian and Chauffeur. Guardian is essentially the implementation of various bits of level 2 autonomous driving, also known as active safety features. Think about these as a suite of sensors and logic that allow the car to intervene in specific scenarios to keep the vehicle and occupants safe.
Drifting out of the lane without the blinker on? The car can intervene to alert the driving with a vibrating steering wheel, with an auditory alert, or by actively turning the car back into the lane. Approaching the car in front too quickly? The car can beep at you and even apply the brakes. These are just a few examples of what Toyota has already and will continue to deploy in production vehicles under the Guardian umbrella.
Chauffeur, as the name implies, is full autonomy. Toyota sees level 3 and 4 of autonomous driving as risky. Implementing a Tesla Autopilotesque “autopilot” that allows the driver to mostly stop paying attention is risky. Toyota specifically flagged concerns that it was not clear how long it would take the driver to respond in the event that intervention was required. As such, Chauffeur is Toyota’s level 5 autonomous driving solution. For today, it’s going to be relegated to implementation in labs and concept cars, but make no mistake — Toyota clearly sees Chauffeur as the future solution.
Complemented by a full suite of sensors, including two lidar pucks in the rear deck of the car, Toyota is cautiously pursuing autonomous driving as one of the core deliverables coming out of the Toyota Research Institute, which was commissioned in November 2015.
Inside the Concept-i, Yui can pop around to talk with the driver about what is happening at the destination or just to add some stimulation to keep the driver awake.
Passengers in the rear seats have dedicated monitors embedded in the seat backs which can be used to entertain passengers while traveling. Tic tac toe anyone?
Lighting the Way
Accentuated by copious LEDs, Yui interacts with the driver and those outside the vehicle with these lights. Inside the car, Yewi can adjust lighting to help the driver sleep during autonomous driving, add brighter lights to increase driver alertness in the event that the driver has to manually drive, or indicate an item of interest.
On the outside, the fun lighting is both functional and stylish. On the side of the vehicle, lighting accentuates the front and rear wheels, adding a customizable stylish flair that again matches up with the preferences of the driver. At the nose of the concept, stylish lights are shaped like eyes as another expression of the personality of the car.
The eyes, located where the headlights would traditionally be, blink and express surprise or excitement when the driver arrives. A messaging indicator at the front alerts pedestrians and other drivers when the vehicle is driving autonomously.
Flipping to the rear of the vehicle, the lighting is implemented in a much more traditional fashion, functioning as traffic indicators, brake lights, etc.
Overall, the lighting is a significant addition to the vehicle that, while it doesn’t add much function to the car, does add value to the driver and to the safety of those around the vehicle … as well as a fun way to personalize the vehicle.
The new concept took a divergent approach to doors with doors that split along the traditional B-pillar line but angle directly up to the sky, leaving a broad opening while maintaining a small, safe, door-opening arc. This seems like a much more practical implementation of next-generation door-opening angles than the Model X rear doors, which, while they pack an amazing “wow” factor, are constantly plagued with collisions with parking structures, overhead beams, and other hard-to-detect stationaries.
You may have a relationship with the Concept-i shortly after getting in one, but that doesn’t mean it’s just a social car. This thing also promises to bring autonomous driving to the masses. Toyota has shared that it was aggressively pursuing Level 2 autonomous driving (as is every other auto manufacturer), but that it is similarly leery about committing to any near-term plans to achieve fully autonomous driving anytime soon.
The Concept-i comes at a time when most auto manufacturers are engaging the consumer in a new way. They have realized that autonomous driving is coming, and that when it does, people are going to be bored on the way to work. How can we capitalize on this or add value to the lives of drivers? The Concept-i is an attempt to address that. It’s a unique approach but doesn’t break too much new ground, if any.
If nothing else, the way the doors open, while admittedly over-engineered, seem to be a nice balance between maximizing the door opening size while still preserving a somewhat normal aerial footprint.
What was completely missing from the presentation was any mention of drivetrain. Is this thing electric? Hydrogen fuel cell powered? No clue. It’s clear that Toyota’s focus is on the user experience and not the drivetrain, though electric vehicles also bring many improvements to the user experience to the table … oh well, one can hope. 🙂
Check out the official press release here and a more comprehensive gallery of photos below.
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All images by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica
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