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Toyota Is Weaving a Future of Smart City Living

Overview At CES® 2020, Toyota revealed plans to build a prototype city of the future at the base of Mt. Fuji. Recently, Toyota announced that it had started construction on Woven City. Learn more about the concept behind Woven City and why now is a better time than any for this connected ecosystem.

At the end of February 2021, Toyota announced that it had broken ground on the construction of one of its most ambitious projects: Woven City, the plans for which were first revealed at CES 2020.

Based in the shadow of Mount Fuji in Japan, the Woven City, equal parts prototype smart city and community science lab, represents Toyota’s efforts to connect its mobility research and solutions more fully with an increasingly digitized world. Even the name Woven City, a reference to Toyota’s origins as a textile machinery maker, evokes the imagery of a company striving for continuous transformation.

Now with the completion of its groundbreaking milestone, it is fitting to take a step back at the roots of this prototype smart city at CES and what lays in store for this grand experiment.

 

There Was a Dream that Was Woven City

In the halcyon days before the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., CES 2020 provided its trademark in-person showcase of the most innovative technologies, especially in the automotive and mobility sectors. While flying cars, electric vehicles and autonomous mobility solutions from scooters to cars played major roles at the 2020 show, Toyota’s Media Day reveal of Woven City took the concept of future mobility to a larger scale.

With the plan to build adjacent to a retired Toyota car-making factory, Woven City was envisioned as a smart city that would host 2000 residents and researchers who would make the city a living laboratory. In this lab, residents, who will include engineers and scientists, will develop and test new technologies in shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, robotics, smart home connected technology and artificial intelligence to build this smart city community from the ground up.

The defining feature of the city was its three types of streets interwoven with one another:

  •  A road devoted to autonomous vehicles.
  • A road for personal mobility vehicles.
  • A road solely for pedestrians.
 

The roads underscore the desire for harmony between humans and future tech. An additional underground road would be used for the autonomous transport of goods efficiently throughout the city, reflecting the program as the logical next step in shared mobility innovation.

Finally, the program places significant emphasis on sustainability. Tapping the architect behind Google’s sustainable Mountain View headquarters, the design of the city will combine traditional Japanese wood joinery with renewable energy technologies to minimize the carbon footprint. Specifically, the city will rely on a combination of Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell technology and the installation of photovoltaic rooftop solar panels on each building to power the community.

 

Timing Is Everything

Breaking ground on the Mt. Fuji site marks Toyota’s first steps to take this conceptual dream and bring it to reality. And judging from the dominant trends and themes of the all-digital CES 2021 earlier this year, this reality could not come soon enough.

A sign of the rapid shift of consumer and enterprise priorities, sustainability emerged as a prevailing theme of CES 2021. From Bosch’s announcement that it achieved carbon neutrality in 2020 to GM’s substantial pivot to electric vehicle fleet development in the next decade, the environmental effect of enterprise and consumer technologies stood front and center. As such, Woven City’s focus on minimizing its carbon footprint and using renewable power underscores how well positioned the program is to capitalize on this trend.

Furthermore, the pandemic pushed forward the acceptance and deployment of autonomous vehicles as the contactless nature of this technology provides safe delivery of goods both domestically and abroad. This also bodes well for the prospects of Woven City, which puts Toyota’s autonomous rideshare and delivery vehicle, the e-Palette (unveiled at CES 2018), and its semi-autonomous electric minicar, the LQ, in the position of serving as the mobility solutions that will weave together the various innovations of the city.

 

More Than a Whisper

Construction seems to be the focus right now for Toyota as efforts to recruit residents and researchers to live in this living laboratory have not formally begun. However, according to Toyota President Akio Toyoda, the company has received applications from more than 3000 individuals and corporations that want to become partners in the project.

The initial plan is to start with 360 residents of the city with an emphasis on senior citizens, a group that would benefit greatly from a more automated residential ecosystem, in addition to the researchers residing in the community.

Still, an exact date for when the site will see its planned 2000 residents residing in the city remains to be announced. For now, Woven City remains the city of tomorrow, but tomorrow may be here much sooner than we think.

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