The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas attracts thousands of weird, wacky, and wonderful exhibits from all around the world. At CES 2018, Toyota is showcasing its e-Palette, a battery operated mobility device that does it all. It can serve as an autonomous transportation pod for ride hailing or carpooling. It can carry cargo or act as a roving billboard. It can also be a mobile office, a retail store or pizza parlor on wheels, a mobile hotel room, or a medical clinic according to a report in The Verge.
Officially, Toyota describes the e-Palette as a “fully automated, next generation battery electric vehicle designed to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service businesses.” The module can be made any size depending on the needs of customers. Toyota expects to showcase the e-Palette as part of its mobility solutions of the future project at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That’s actually an important bit of news. Up until recently, hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles were supposed to be the transportation highlight at those Summer Games.
The versatility of the e-Palette prompted Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to quip during a presentation at CES, “Just think how good e-Palette would be at Burning Man,” where the movers and shakers of the tech world gather every year to tell each other how wonderful they are. Is the e-Palette just a fantastical concept with no likelihood of ever seeing production? Apparently not. Major corporations like Amazon, Didi Chuxing, Mazda, Pizza Hut, and Uber have expressed an interest in being part of the development process.
Self-driving passenger pods are not earth-shattering news anymore. Rinspeed’s Snap is also at CES 2018. Fisker says it has an idea for just such a vehicle, as does NEVS. They are already in operation in Singapore and at Heathrow airport in London. The next revolution is to take them out of dedicated routes that are geofenced to keep them away from other vehicles and make them capable of operating in the hustle and bustle of the real world. That sort of autonomy may still be several years away, but when it gets here, Toyota will be ready.