15th November 2017
Tangible and imminent mobility benefits evident in the technology revealed at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show
The 45th Tokyo Motor Show inevitably still saw a healthy lineup of the usual adrenaline-pumping supercars, sports cars, grand tourers and wacky concepts showcased, from the ultra-sleek Mazda Vision Coupe1 and throaty Subaru Viziv Performance concept2 to Suzuki’s e-Survivor3 SUV concept and Mitsubishi Electric’s Emirai 4†.
As a telematics and insurance solutions group, though, what primarily piques our interest at motor shows are the announcements surrounding alternative fuels, battery, hybrid and EV technology, connectivity and mobility.
“Starting today, Toyota is more than a car company. We’re a human movement company”, exclaimed the Japanese giant’s representative, Didier Leroy4. Through a vision dubbed “start your impossible”, Toyota is thinking slightly more long-term than chief rivals and aiming to make transportation that is accessible to everyone a reality through the ‘smart mobility society’ it’s seeking to shape. Appeasing those who perceive that the future will be based on soulless robots, Mr Leroy stressed that Toyota wants to retain the fun and lovable side of cars.
Data communication modules (DCM) are set to play a key role in Toyota’s imminently forthcoming production cars, albeit it Japan initially. Along with the firm’s ITS Connect service, ‘societal problems’ like traffic jams in urban areas will be alleviated through the sharing of big data between vehicles, traffic lights and other components, and DCMs will even predict problems in vehicles and keep an eye on their servicing and maintenance requirements5.
Away from cars, Toyota used the Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) 2017 to reveal its wider mobility concepts starting with Concept-i Walk6, which is rather like a three-wheeled variable-wheelbase Segway that will not only be easy to use but will also be equipped with technology enabling it to anticipate and avoid pavement collisions, enriching the lives of people who would otherwise struggle to navigate the city on foot.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being pursued by Toyota in order to improve a driver’s mood and perhaps calm them down in the names of safety and wellbeing, its full-size Concept-i and two-seater Concept-i RIDE vehicles using sensors to detect and assess alertness. Sounding both odd and appealing at the same time, the vehicles’ AI system called Yui will try to start conversations with their drivers based on his or her social media profiles and activities. Concept i-RIDE is essentially Toyota’s ultimate mobility scooter of the future, with joystick operation not as daunting for less able-bodied users, and gullwing doors to maximise accessibility7.
With manufacturers increasingly turning away from internal combustion engines, Toyota’s Fine-Comfort Ride concept vehicle might have an unusual name but shows the company’s determination to further develop hydrogen fuel cell technology, embodied in this case in an ultra-modern package8.
Public transport around the world is also undergoing an alternative fuels revolution and Toyota unveiled a fuel cell bus concept called the Sora at Tokyo 2017. Tipped for ferrying people around during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the bus incorporates a comparatively compact battery along with ten hydrogen tanks. Cleverly, the Sora can be used as a power generator in times of emergency, and it’s set to be a technological tour de force, too, with vehicle-to-X communications, peripheral monitoring and various autonomous features9.
Honda has been pondering how to join up connected and smart cars and homes even more closely, and although it could be said that the marque’s Ie-Mobi concept10 looks akin to something you might buy at IKEA, it’s an interesting vision. Everything from a home’s utilities to its televisual gadgetry will be mirrored in this boxy, airy vehicle that Honda envisages will be introduced in the near future and used as an additional ‘room’ when relatives come to stay, a party is thrown, or even as a ‘mobile pantry for weekend shopping.’
Similar to Toyota’s futuristic wheelchair ideas, Honda’s own Fure-Mobi and ChairMobi concepts were showcased at Tokyo 2017, the emphasis being on helping foster closer human bonds, while its Ai-Miimo concept is essentially an autonomous electric lawnmower, but the inclusion of AI will turn it into a companion claimed to bring enrichment to one’s life11. Talking to a lawnmower may understandably seem like a barmy notion to some people, and it’s fair to foresee it failing to give real-life pooches and moggies the elbow, but being able to automatically schedule grass-cutting and for it to tell its owners when maintenance is required will be undeniably handy.
High-tech mobility solutions for computer-savvy elderly and less mobile citizens were also unveiled by lesser-known firms Whill and Ninebot, all these products aiming to ease rapidly aging societies across Asia and in other parts of the world. With the elderly sometimes overlooked when it comes to technological innovations, it’s great to see the opposite coming out of Tokyo 2017.
Nissan didn’t bring anything as wacky or contentious to the party, but having been at the forefront of the electric vehicle market for many years with its relatively popular LEAF, it’s exciting to see that its IMx concept built on its forthcoming EV platform will boast a totally flat floor13. This advancement will combat one of the current downsides of hybrid and electric vehicles, namely their batteries considerably eating into boot and cabin space. Nissan reckons its new zero-emissions tech’ will enable a Tesla-matching range of upto 375 miles, which we like the sound of as it will make them much more useable. The other USP of the IMx is that it has an SUV-coupe silhouette14, which is an apt move to say the least, ensuring that Nissan’s EV technology will no longer be limited to hatchback and van guises and will finally satisfy the unstoppable numbers buying and leasing SUVs.
The ‘Tokyo Connected Lab’ section of the motor show wowed attendees with a futuristic maze depicting the city’s near-future technological upgrades, and also featured a large interactive dome bringing together the future mobility concepts. We love the organisers’ proclamation that “the future is not something that is predetermined” but is “created together with the other members of our society”. A survey was conducted based around six ‘future keywords’: social good, universal, move, drive, private and share, the main gist being collaborative automated solutions making society a better and freer place, complete with interactive vehicles that afford welcome privacy for today’s busy citizens, with the realisation that ownership will make way for shared on-demand vehicles15.
Relatively few can afford sleek hyper-cars anyway so it’s encouraging to see how the Tokyo Motor Show 2017 also focussed on improving and enriching the lives of everyday people with technology not of tomorrow but that is already very much here.
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