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Toyota to Launch. . . a City

Rather than just trying to see how advanced mobility and robotics will fit into existing structures, Toyota is building a city to help determine how these things can be best integrated into people’s lives
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When most CEOs go to CES to make an announcement, it is of a new automated driving system or a piece of one. Maybe a concept vehicle that will one day show up in a version that only hints at the original.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., came to CES and announced that Toyota is building. . .a city.

That’s right: a city.

Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda announces Woven City, which will be built in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. (Image: gsv)

It is being called “Woven City,” which goes back, in part, to the fact that Toyota started its business existence as a manufacturer of looms.

A BIG Plan

The other part is that the city is being designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and according to Bjarke Ingels, the design is such that there will be a mesh of streets—some for higher speed vehicles, some for lower speed transport devices like the Toyota e-Palette and pedestrians, and some for pedestrians only—and a vertical orientation of the mixed-use buildings. There will be services and delivery vehicles operating under the ground of Woven City, which is where the hydrogen fuel cells that will be used to power the city’s grid will be housed.

The municipality is to be built on 175 acres near Mt. Fuji. Ground breaking will occur in 2021 and the goal will be to have people starting to move to the site within five years after that. All in, the population will be on the order of 2,000 residents.

Sensors Lead to Services

Woven City will be tech-intensive, with a variety of sensors being arrayed throughout. The information collected will be used, explained Zack Hicks, executive vice president and chief digital officer, Toyota Motor North America, to create services for the residents of Woven City.

One of the drivers for the creation of this city is that Toyota, through the Toyota Research Institute (which has facilities in Los Altos, Ann Arbor and Cambridge) and the Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (based in Tokyo), is doing research in automated driving, robotics and materials. By having a place where these technologies can be developed and deployed under bona-fide real-world conditions—sure, there will be researchers living there as on a college campus, but the plans call for ordinary people to opt in to the opportunity to live there.

New Tech; New City

Dr. James Kuffner, CEO of Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, pointed out that not only does Toyota have experience building housing units—some 100,000 over 37 years—but there is a recognition that “cities of the future will be changed by new technologies.”

Realize that we take roadways and urban sprawl for granted because the automobile (1) needed the extensive paved network to operate effectively and (2) permitted people to live further away from where they worked.

Ingels pointed out that people continue to move to cities which is causing both population density and growth. By considering a literal greenfield approach to a city predicated on new modes of transportation and delivery, there is the opportunity to understand how existing cities can be better modified to accommodate the changes that are being brought not only through changes in mobility, but the digital connections that are becoming even more pervasive.

The Future Town Square

There is one interesting aspect of the design of Woven City that shouldn’t be overlooked. The center is open. Think of it as a town square of days gone by (that you can sometimes find in small New England towns).

Bjarke Ingels and Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda and Bjarke Ingels.

The planners visualize that area being a place where people can congregate. The ePalette can be used as a basis for food trucks and shops and even entertainment. It is a place where they’re building neighborhood and community.

It is a bold move.

In his presentation at the 2018 CES Akio Toyoda said, “It's my goal to transition Toyota from an automobile company to a mobility company, and the possibilities of what we can build, in my mind, are endless.”

Clearly, what he was thinking about building goes well beyond the Prius and Camry.

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