Toyota imagines a pair of mobility “support vehicle” solutions for the elderly and disabled.
Toyota unveiled the first Concept-i car at the CES technology show in January. It runs an artificial-intelligence system that communicates with the driver by “stimulating the five senses.” It reads moods and engages in two-way conversations, records them with GPS tags, and uploads everything to a data cloud, not unlike what Apple, Google, and Microsoft do with their voice assistants. This is supposedly so that the car can take control when a driver becomes stressed or ill, or perhaps so it can suggest new roads when a driver is eager for a change of scene.
For the Tokyo auto show, the Concept-i teams up with two small support vehicles, the Ride and the Walk, both of which share a more altruistic purpose of helping the disabled and elderly stay mobile. The two-seat Concept-i Ride is a polished little pebble that’s nearly two feet shorter than Toyota’s iQ microcar. At 98.4 inches, it’s half a foot longer than the Nissan New Mobility Concept, a comically tiny thing in which we zipped around in Manhattan. An EV, the Ride has a projected range of 62 to 93 miles. Its biggest benefit is that hand controls replace the pedals and the steering wheel. The gullwing doors make entering the car easy, and the central front seat slides left or right, depending on which door is opened. Despite its name, the Ride is fully drivable. Automated parking, a self-parking valet feature, and the usual autonomous functions can take over driving tasks entirely, but only when the driver—a keyword Toyota uses repeatedly—chooses to do so. The Ride has loading space for a folded wheelchair, and there’s a fold-out passenger seat on the left side.
When the Ride is too large for the final portion of a journey, it’s time to break out the Toyota Concept-i Walk. Unlike the gyroscopic Segway, which requires riders to lean every which way, Toyota mixes a conventional trike layout with an extendable wheelbase. Standing still, the Walk needs only the walking space of an average adult to make a complete turn. At higher speeds, the Walk spaces its rear wheels further from the front wheel for a more stable ride, varying the overall length from 19.7 to 27.6 inches. The Walk is also designed to be actively driven, although after a warning it will automatically intervene to avoid sidewalk collisions.
All three Concept-i vehicles use what Toyota calls AI Agent, an always-listening, all-knowing system that attempts to gauge human emotions. The outcome isn’t just to amass “big data,” as Toyota explicitly states, but to “enrich the enjoyment of moving” and “deliver fresh experiences.” By 2020, Toyota will start testing some of these features in Japan. After that, it may only be a few more years until an autonomous Camry picks us up from the grocery store, knowing every item in our bags. More than a car, it will be our best friend. We hope.