At Las Vegas’ annual gadget-palooza otherwise known as CES (the Consumer Electronics Show), splashy reveals rule the day, vying for the attention of geeks, gearheads and really, the world. Some advents are crazy cool, others mildly intriguing. A few make you scratch your head and say “oh god, why?”
That’s where I’ve been the last few days, mired in the full gamut of gadgetry — from purposeful to preposterous. So, naturally, it was refreshing when Toyota offered up a gust of fresh innovative air in the form of their UX-guided Toyota Concept-i — a vision of future driving in the year 2030.
It’s something that fans of self-driving cars can marvel at — a well-intentioned car concept enthralling in its design, yes, but more importantly, an intelligent comment on the potentially perilous avenues our driverless future could be careening toward.
I had a chance to interview the visionary behind the car, Ian Cartabiano, Studio Chief Designer at Toyota’s CALTY Design Research lab, who gave me a tour of the concept after its big reveal, so I could experience this creation firsthand. After all, I’d like to know what driving holds for millennials in the year 2030. Assuming they still do it and not hail Ubers full time.
What struck me almost immediately was the personality of the car. It literally came alive to greet me with a luminescent “Hello,” streaming across the car’s side panel, shining through the ceramic white paint. The scissor doors then dramatically opened, elegantly laying out the Concept-i’s version of a red carpet, inviting me into the cockpit. Once inside the cockpit, I was able to start the car by waving my hand over a sensor, which through haptic feedback, started the Concept-i, initiating my communication with the star performer of this experience — Yui.
Yui is the Concept-i’s AI (artificial intelligence), an animated 2D female character that speaks to you loud and clear throughout the vehicle, including the interior walls and seats. She’s like Siri, but with a more palpable zest for life. (Scarlett Johannson from Her, not Dave from 2001.) An extension of Yui’s personality are the color hues used to communicate with passengers both onboard and outside the vehicle. One is for manual driving mode (a teal green), the other for autonomous driving (a violet color), which by the way, the Concept-i would be happy to do for you if Yui determines you need it.
But more on that later.
“We’re trying to move away from this soulless future that has been represented lately with autonomous cars,” says Cartabiano of the design, produced over a two-year period after having a “philosophical debate for five months before even putting pen to paper.” It’s not the first car Cartabiano and Toyota have collaborated on. One was the Lexus LF-LC. Another the Toyota Fun vii that demanded attention because it literally broadcast whatever the driver wanted on its exterior screen-covered shell — art, video, or even a Facebook post.
Speaking of translucent shells, where the Concept-i really shines is in the four-color 3D graphic interface that would feasibly splay across the front windshield and cover the length of the car’s curvaceous interior. For the purposes of the demo, the graphics were displayed on a screen outside of the car, but it didn’t really matter. You can get the point from this video I shot from the Concept-i’s cockpit. (Note: The technology I demo’d is more a representation of what could happen, not seamless like a production car. To be expected — it’s a concept car after all.)
A theme of this year’s CES is connectivity — at home, in the car, wherever you may be. The “third space,” as Toyota calls it — where you are in between work and home. That’s why, in all its idealism, Yui’s concern for the driver’s well-being using cues in facial recognition is impressive. The car literally tries to anticipate your needs and wants.
Let me explain.
The idea is that if you get in the car after a long stressful day at work, Yui could process your state of mind using biometric feedback and recommend a safer, more scenic beach stretch to help you decompress on your commute home. And if your eyes start to get heavy while you’re in driving mode, Yui will recognize your heavily batting eyelids and will increase air flow and “engage in a conversation to keep you alert” — before shifting into autonomous driving mode to counteract any perceptible drops in attentiveness.
“At a certain point, if you’re going to fall asleep, Yui will say, ‘You seem very tired, is it okay if I take control now?'” explains Cartabiano. “And you could say, ‘Yes, Yui please take control.’ What we want to happen, is a direct turnover of vehicle control of driver-to-car and car-to-driver.”
It’s where the whole self-driving car thing is headed — a nod to how a car could potentially start looking out for their drivers and Toyota is envisioning an avenue to help make it a reality. Vehicles that get more intelligent, the more you drive them… it could happen. If it does, the Concept-i could feasibly be your best friend by the year 2030 once the robot apocalypse officially happens.
The dog will have had a good run.