The Future is (Almost) Here: Toyota’s “Woven City” Prototype Underway

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Toyota is giving people a glimpse into the future with a “Woven City” prototype in Japan. Smart Energy International reported that the city would be located in the foothills of Mount Fuji. Toyota broke ground on the project in February 2021. 

According to Toyota, the city will take on a human-centered approach to community development with new technologies such as automated driving, personal mobility, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The project also solidifies the company’s transition from an automobile manufacturer to a mobility company, reported Smart Energy International. The city is being built by a Toyota subsidiary — Woven Planet Holdings — formed in January 2021. 

“The unwavering themes of the Woven City are ‘human-centered,’ ‘a living laboratory’ and ‘ever-evolving,’” said Toyota President Akio Toyoda. “Together with the support of our project partners, we will take on the challenge of creating a future where people of diverse backgrounds are able to live happily.”

The Woven City will consist of three types of streets “interwoven” at the ground level. One is dedicated to automated driving, another to pedestrians, and a third to personal mobility vehicles. The city will also contain an underground road for the transportation of goods. 

Toyota has partnered with or acquired companies to develop the city. The list includes: 

  • Lyft’s Level 5 division (acquired) for automated driving mobility
  • Energy and materials company Eneos Corporation (partner)
  • Isuzu and Hino (partnerships) to access an Automated Mapping Platform
  • Capital investment in the robotics company Nuro to advance the design and engineering of self-driving vehicles

It’s anticipated that the city will start with 360 residents, composed of senior citizens, young families, and inventors. The goal is to grow the population to 2,000 people or more, including Toyota employees. 

According to Smart Energy International, the project is still in the “visionary” stage and will focus on a “software first” approach. James Kuffner, who’s leading the project and is a Stanford-trained computer scientist with over 25-years’ experience in engineering research, explained the strategy of software first. 

It “means developing the software earlier than the hardware, and it provides two main benefits. One is reusability, and we need to create algorithms and new value and services that we can deploy on many different types of hardware,” he said. “The second is upgradeability, and just as our smartphones can be upgraded with new applications and software, connected mobility will also have the same potential.”

An example of the vision includes using robots traveling underground to deliver goods, parcels, and mail from a logistics center to individual households. According to Kuffner, city development typically takes “many years and decades,” but the time frame can be compressed by utilizing digital technology, and “iterations of improvements” will happen quicker. 

“Toyota’s production system is based around continuous improvement, and we are hoping to apply those ideas with new digital tools to accelerate that development and learning to achieve a more helpful, beneficial society for the cities of the future much faster,” Kuffner added.

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