LAS VEGAS – Can you engineer a planned city that works over the long haul? Toyota wants to give it a try with Woven City, a 175-acre site at the base of Mount Fuji, 90 miles southwest of Toyota’s Tokyo headquarters. There will be hydrogen fuel cells and rooftop solar panels providing power, native vegetation, and hydroponic gardens. There will also be in-home robotics, primarily wood buildings with traditional Japanese wood joinery, and in-home sensors and robotics to help with daily living.
What’s missing from Woven City? Traditional passenger cars and SUVs, of which Toyota made some 8 million last year. There will be people movers (electric, self-driving) and plenty of pedestrian paths. Woven City construction will begin in 2021, Toyota says, with an initial population of 2,000 employees and families, retirees, retailers, visiting scientists and industry partners.
For a company that builds more vehicles than any other, the obvious questions about Woven City are “Why?” and “Where do cars, and vehicles of any kind, fit in?” The why part is a combination of Toyota’s sense of corporate responsibility to envision a cleaner, better future for the world and the desire to have a live-in lab to figure things out. The second part, about where vehicles fit in, amounts to little or no place for traditional vehicles at the heart of this utopian community, and three tiers of space for people and vehicles moving about:
- Roadways/spaces for faster vehicles only
- A mix of lower speed, personal mobility, and pedestrians
- A park-like “promenade” for pedestrians only
“These three street types,” Toyota says, “weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy.” The c0mpany adds:
To move residents through the city, only fully-autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares. In and throughout Woven City, autonomous Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transportation and deliveries, as well as for changeable mobile retail.
Homes or apartments in Woven City will have servants in the form of AI routines and robots. On this, Toyota is a bit vague, saying:
Residences will be equipped with the latest in human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. The homes will use sensor-based AI to check occupants’ health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively.
The model home (image above) seems spacious and uncluttered, as if the family shops ’til they drop, yet the jeans, boots, parkas, games, electronics, kitchen countertop cookers, cosmetics, earbuds, battery chargers, and backpacks all have closet space available. But then the utopia described in the 1870s novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler wasn’t quite utopia, and it’s also Nowhere spelled (almost) backward. Since there’s no dome covering the place, it should well turn out better than Biosphere 2 in Arizona.
Toyota notes the structures will be primarily wood. They’ll feature traditional Japanese joinery techniques but be assembled in robotic factories to contain cost.
Toyota envisions the public spaces drawing people out of their living units and interacting together, in places that are clean and safe, with plenty of places to sit. We didn’t see soccer or basketball courts for children and younger adults but assume that’s part of the plan. According to Toyota:
Both neighborhood parks and a large central park for recreation, as well as a central plaza for social gatherings, are designed to bring the community together. Toyota believes that encouraging human connection will be an equally important aspect of this experience.
Japan has the world’s oldest population. We also assume that Woven City imagines helping Japan’s rapidly aging population: one-third above 60, one-quarter above 65, and one-eighth above 75. The in-home family image above shows three distinct generations under one, quite tall, sloping roof. Some seniors living alone have no interaction with others for weeks on end and others near family still feel isolated; Bloomberg (the news site, not the candidate) notes over-65s in Japan commit petty crimes and get themselves arrested because they find prison a better and more social place to be than outside, especially among women.
How big is the 175-acre Woven City site? It could be a medium-size US college campus, 75 football fields including end zones and sidelines but not the stadium, 30-40 New York City residential blocks, or one-quarter of a square mile.
All this is somewhat removed from building Corollas, RAV4s and Camrys. At the same time, it could be a great laboratory for rethinking how Toyota transforms into a future that relies more on electrification, multi-modal transportation, shared rides, and mass transit. Unlike Biosphere 2, there shouldn’t be algae in the ponds.
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