Toyota Concept-i Rolls Into CES 2017. It’s Not Your Father’s Prius

Amidst all the hoopla and hype at the 2017 CES show in Las Vegas, Toyota unveiled its Concept-i, a somewhat whimsical look at what connected, self driving cars of the future might look like. Are any of its technological features ever going to make into an actual production car?  Who knows. Some of us remember when air conditioning was both legal and rare.

“Basically, this is our futuristic vision of what driving a Toyota means in the year 2030,” says Ian Cartabiano, head of Toyota’s  CALTY advanced design center in southern California. “The challenging aspect of it was, how do we make this futuristic car convey something that’s still fun to drive, but also have a new way to interact between driver and car, and basically, reignite a love for cars.” The Concept-i is the team’s answer to that question. “A proposal for the future that incorporates technology with a soul. We don’t want to make a cold, technical, dry, soulless machine.”

The heart and soul of the Concept-i (if such a thing is possible in a machine) is Yui, an artificial intelligence interface that connects the car to the driver and the outside world in a seamless, intuitive, and — yes, dare we say it? — fun loving way. When a driver first enters the car, Yui presents as a pulsating circle of light located in the middle of the dashboard. The circle rises to meet the driver, they exchange a digital handshake, they Yui goes on a rapid fire excursion around the interior and exterior of the car, making sure that all the driver’s individual preferences for temperature, lighting, and entertainment are enabled.

It also scans the exterior of the car, looking for anomalies in the outside environment that need attention. Yui can turn on the exterior lights to light the way for driving or warn other drivers of its approach. Messages like “Watch Out!” and “I’m Turning Left!” can be displayed anywhere on its external panels. “In order for Yui to communicate with you or other passengers in the car, or to the outside, we needed it to move around the cabin, and needed it to go outside the cabin,” Cartabiano says.

If all this sounds a little like a visit to Tomorrowland at Disney World, that’s no coincidence. The CALTY team used the Twelve Principles of Animation developed by Disney artists in the 1930’s  to help make inanimate objects appear alive and convey emotions. Those include pulsing, stretching, shrinking, overlapping. Visual cues from the driver, including eye command, voice command, and touch command are also integrated into Yui’s artificial intelligence neural network.

Such adaptability is intended to add a sense delight to the driving experience, something that has been instrumental in  creating a bond between people and their vehicles for more than a century. In Japanese culture, “It’s called Omotenashi,” Cartabiano explains. “It’s a way of saying ‘contextual information.’ It’s basically hospitality at the right time, when you need it, in the right amount, served in a beautiful way. And when you’re done, it disappears.”

The exterior design of Concept-i features a fluid design that is rather more appealing than the riot of scoops, creases, and crenelations that distinguish the current Prius. Cartabiano says the guiding design principle was Kinetic Warmth. “It’s very easy to draw a smart-phone on wheels, something that’s cold and aluminum and gloss black, and it has red eyes. We wanted to stay away from that,” he says. “For this concept, every surface is moving, but it all has a connected line quality.” He credits architect Eero Saarinen as the inspiration for the car’s design. “He was a Modernist, but the feeling of movement he applied in buildings like the TWA Terminal at JFK, we really wanted to apply to this car. Something warm not cold, something inviting, not sterile.”

Self driving cars are coming and sooner than we think. One conundrum future engineers must solve is what happens when four of them are all stopped at the same four way intersection. How will they decide which car is to enter the intersection first? A true conundrum for AI aficionados. “That was one of our big topics of discussion at the very beginning of this project,” Cartabiano says. “Don’t we have information overload right now? We wanted to do the opposite. We wanted to plant this flag at CES and say, our vision of the future is intriguing, warm, simple, and universal.”

Source: Electric Cars Report



Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.