Toyota Concept-i Series: Your new best friend?
Auto enthusiast magazines set a high priority on the relationship between car and driver, extolling those vehicles in which the car becomes an unfiltered extension of the driver’s will. But as the world rolls relentlessly into the age of mobility and autonomous vehicles, Toyota’s Concept-i offers a different interpretation of that relationship, one in which artificial intelligence allows the car to “better understand the driver” so that it can “grow together with the driver as an irreplaceable partner.”
For some, this may conjure up ominous memories of HAL 9000, the sinister computer of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” For Toyota, it signals the onset of a new era in fun-to-drive in which the car’s computer learns and catalogues the operator’s tendencies and preferences as it takes over management of routine driving chores.
And it goes beyond that, to engaging the driver in conversation. According to Toyota, the system is capable of interpreting the driver’s mood, and suggesting appropriate topics for dialogue. This is part of the system’s “emotion mapping,” accumulating a data that also prompts the car to suggest new driving routes, based on the emotion map and GPS info.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the concept is the vehicle’s electronic brain being capable of detecting conditions in which the driver is “overcome by a dangerous or high-stress situation,” whereupon it will take control of the car.
The Concept-i is one of a series of Toyota mobility dream cars that began with the introduction of this little four-wheeler at last January’s CES show in Las Vegas. At the Tokyo show, it’s joined by another version, the Concept-i Ride, a tiny transportation pod, and the Concept-i Walk, a personal device similar to the Segway.
Details of the various Concept-i variants—dimensions, capacities, drivetrains—were absent in Toyota’s pre-Tokyo release material. Given the nature of current trends in Japanese personal transportation and mobility planning, it’s probable that all members of the Concept-i series are propelled by electric motors. However, battery capacity and motor output information wasn’t mentioned.
On the other hand, Toyota does assert that some of the Concept-i features will find their way into prototype vehicles for road testing by 2020. Conversation topics are yet to be determined.