Think of the brand Toyota, and you may imagine steadfast, reliable, and eco-conscious models like the Prius. But what I’m sure you won’t be thinking about is an innovative, fully connected city.
Yet that is precisely what you can expect in a bold new move from Toyota. The company plans to transform its recently closed car plant at the base of Mount Fuji into a state-of-the-art hydrogen-powered woven city.
The 175-acre development located in Higashi-Fuji will be a living experiment and explore the possibilities of a fully connected city ecosystem.
Building Future Digital Cities
Building a brand new city may be a unique opportunity, but it is certainly not easy.
Toyota plans to ensure its Woven City offers outstanding connectivity with people, buildings, and vehicles all linked and communicating through data and sensors.
To achieve this new smart city, everything from street layout to connectivity will need to be carefully mapped out from the offset.
The city master plan will include three street types, and each will accommodate different motoring needs. One street will be dedicated to fast-moving traffic, and another will be limited to slower-moving traffic. The third will be park-like pedestrian-only promenades covering most of the 175-acre site so people can walk virtually everywhere they need to.
By segregating the traffic in this way, Toyota hopes the city will be much safer. But just because you give people a dedicated walking lane doesn’t mean they will stick to it, which may present unexpected problems.
Another potential issue is the plan to introduce autonomous vehicles. A concern with autonomous vehicles is how to program them to make decisions. For example, a human may swerve to avoid hitting a child but may put themselves in considerable danger. However, would it be right that an autonomous car made the same decision?
Toyota hopes to combat many of these potential issues through the organic grid pattern of the streets.
Toyota’s ambition doesn’t just extend to motoring experimentation as it also plans to put sustainability at the fore of the entire city. It plans to use hydrogen fuel cells and solar panels on rooftops weaved throughout the city to provide power. Vegetation will be placed in strategic places to help mitigate hot and cold temperatures.
However, having hydrogen as the primary power source is highly unusual. Currently, the cost of hydrogen fuel cell technology is one of the barriers preventing more mainstream uptake. So it raises the question about how people will be able to afford it and whether it offers a credible solution in other cities given the extensive infrastructure needed to supply hydrogen safely.
Like any new build project, the Woven City will impact the existing environment. To minimize this, buildings will be sensitive to environmental impact and utilize a combination of traditional Japanese joinery techniques and robotic production methods. While the materials used will be predominantly carbon neutralized to reduce the environmental impact.
Work on building the new city will commence early next year, with Danish architect Bjarke Ingels heading up the design. Ingels has led multiple high-profile projects worldwide, including the Lego House in Denmark and Google’s Mountain View, to name just a few. But the Woven City is arguably his most ambitious project to date.
Testing Technology in a Real-Life Environment
As already mentioned, one of the big aims of the project is to integrate the use of autonomous vehicles in Woven City. To do so, Toyota will use its e-Palette Concept, a fully automated next-generation battery electric vehicle.
The e-Palette Concept will operate as much more than just a mode of transport by incorporating different systems. The e-Palette will fulfill a host of functions like ride-sharing and carpooling and less typical functions like mobile office space.
Furthermore, as Toyota builds the Woven City from the ground up, it will provide a unique working environment to test connected artificial intelligence (AI) in virtual and physical realms.
The state-of-the-art homes will feature the most advanced technologies to enhance daily life. Sensor-based AI will monitor the health of residents and help take care of their basic needs. While smart home technologies, which will include in-house robotics and automated delivery services, will interact with sensors to send what residents need or request through an underground network.
While the idea behind the increased reliance on surveillance technology to improve our health may initially sound wonderful, some people may have real privacy concerns and how any potential data will be used.
The above also may explain that initially, Toyota plans to move in around 360 residents, who will mainly be Toyota employees or retired workers. However, it plans to expand the number of residents to 2,000 in the near future, with families, retailers, visiting scientists, and industry partners invited to widen the city’s scope.
Although Woven City is a Toyota initiative, the company has extended an invitation to other commercial and academic partners to contribute. The hope is collaboration is necessary to push forward with truly revolutionary ideas.
Woven City Significance to the Car of the Future
Toyota’s Woven City will be the first city committed to prioritizing autonomous vehicles from conception. Everything from the layout to infrastructure will heighten autonomy to integrate with everyday life.
While on-road testing of autonomous vehicles is already taking place in various countries, varying laws put limitations on testing.
The lack of such restriction in this project is incredibly exciting as it explores emission-free autonomous vehicles’ true capabilities and how they may change our lives for the better.
The Woven City certainly promises to offer a whole new way of living that is more streamlined, efficient, and easier. And it is exciting to think about how some functions may work themselves into our everyday lives. However, it remains to be seen if the city as a whole concept will work or whether people will feel restricted by the increasing surveillance and automation of vehicles and a lack of ability to enjoy driving.
Lisa Simm is a copywriter for an automotive retailer and regularly produces content on a range of automotive topics, from the latest car releases to advice on car maintenance and care. To find out more, head to Stoneacre Motor Group.