Toyota’s Vision of the Future, on the Road and in the Robot

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Future Toyota Adventure Concept, or FT-AC

Toyota has released its first global brand campaign—”Mobility for All”—as  the venerable automaker gears up for the 2018 Olympics. The theme: “We want to make movement better for everyone, whether you’re 1 or 100 years old. As the Worldwide Mobility Partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we believe that when we are free to move, anything is possible.”

The notion of being free to move in new directions is a big theme for a company embracing the future. Its designs on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show (open through December 10th) fill gaps in its lineup of vehicles with customer-centric innovations, including its all-terrain concept vehicle.

That includes a three-row version of the midsize Lexus RX crossover after years of pleas by dealers to make the brand’s iconic utility vehicle more family-friendly, and a small FT-AC concept utility vehicle for Toyota. Features include fog lights that can be taken out of their pods and used as portable lights or attached to mountain bikes for night rides, as the Los Angeles Times observes.

“How do we react to customers’ demands for [more] SUVs?” said Jack Hollis, Toyota division general manager, told Automotive News. “You continue to find new spaces in your SUV lineup for new entries.” Also part of its line-up at the LA Auto Show, Toyota is promoting the new Prius Prime, Camry and Mirai.

“Advancements in connected technologies that make driving safer, more convenient and seamless,” are top of the agenda for Toyota North America Vice President Lisa Materazzo, as she told the Los Angeles Times from the LA Auto Show.

On the automotive front, Toyota is making a big bet on hydrogen-powered cars, bucking the trend of other auto industry giants making electric vehicles a priority.

In 2014 Toyota President Akio Toyoda unveiled the Mirai, a four-door family sedan powered by hydrogen tanks and fuel-cell technology that emits nothing but heat and water, and none of the gases that contribute to global warming.

However, as Bloomberg notes, “sales of the $57,500 sedanavailable in Japan, California, and parts of Europe—have yet to break the 5,000 mark, compared to some 300,000 of Nissan Motor Co.’s battery-electric Leaf.”

As Toyota advances the research on autonomous driving and the very transformation of the notion of “mobility” itself, its scientists and engineers are coming front and center not only through their research on driverless cars but in their work on robotics.

Toyota Kirobo Mini Robot

That includes the Kirobo mini robot which can “read” motorists’ emotions as well as its third-generation “humanoid” robot, T-HR3. Previous generations played musical instruments through the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements; T-HR3 is capable of assisting humans in a variety of settings including the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space..

The company also has developed what it calls the Human Support Robot in response to the graying of the Japanese population.

It can help with basic household tasks like getting water and is a great aid to quadriplegics and other disabled people. It can also answer doors and help its owner communicate. With its highly maneuverable, compact and lightweight cylindrical body and folding arm, the robot can pick up objects off the floor and retrieve objects from shelves.

As technology worlds converge around broad digital swaths in the years ahead, Toyota’s leadership in human-helping robotics may become more important, down the road, than fuel-economy levels and other innovations in its vehicles.

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