Toyota Is Building an All-New City for Driverless Cars—and 2,000 Humans

The auto industry is growing obsessed with futuristic transportation infrastructure, from connected cars to smart cities and the like. But where can all this new immersive technology be tested? A traditional closed test track can’t replicate the unpredictability of real life on the streets and sidewalks of America, and few of us normal people are eager to share our morning commute with experimental driverless vehicles. So, what’s a big-time car manufacturer like Toyota to do with its emerging robot army?

Toyota gave us an answer at CES 2020: It’ll build its own city, for testing purposes, of course. The so-called “Woven City” will rise from the grounds of a disused factory in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. At present, the plan is for some 2,000 people to live and work at the 175-acre proving ground for Toyota’s city of the future.

The clean-slate nature of the Woven City will allow Toyota to develop a site plan that divides traffic into three classes: Streets for autonomous vehicles; lanes for pedestrians and low-speed mobility devices; and promenades for people. All three will be woven together to form the city’s grid—hence the name Woven City, which is also a reference to Toyota’s roots as the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. No human-driven or emissions-emitting vehicles (i.e., those with combustion engines) will be allowed in Toyota’s living laboratory. Toyota also will invite partners and scientists to test their own developments alongside its own projects.

The buildings scattered throughout the campus will be designed by famed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, whose credits include the new World Trade Center in New York, the Lego House in Denmark, and Google’s Mountain View and London facilities. The structures are designed to be sustainable and built with wood using traditional Japanese wood joinery techniques and covered with solar panels to supplement the hydrogen fuel cells that will supply the Woven City’s power.

Naturally, everything will be connected—vehicles, buildings, and even the residents themselves. The structures on-site will have sensor-based artificial intelligence to check occupants’ health and in-home robotics to help with day-to-day needs. Autonomous cargo vehicles, which Toyota calls e-Palettes, will deliver supplies, and can also double as mobile retail shops or food trucks for gatherings in the public square. Good thing it’s a factory town, then, as it doesn’t sound like the robots will allow for many employment opportunities, although the plan is to populate the city with Toyota employees and their families. Retirees, retailers, partners, and visiting scientists will join them, pushing the city’s population past 2,000 people if everything goes well. In the meantime, Toyota plans to break ground for the Woven City in 2021, and has opened a website for technology partners to apply to participate.






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