Toyota Motor Corp on Monday said it planned to build a prototype “city of the future” at the base of Mt Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and functioning as a laboratory for autonomous cars, “smart homes,” artificial intelligence and other technologies.
Toyota unveiled the audacious plan for what it will call “Woven City,” in a reference to its origins as a loom manufacturer, at the annual CES, which formally opened yesterday in Las Vegas.
“It’s hard to learn something about a smart city if you are only building a smart block,” Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development chief executive officer James Kuffner said.
The “Woven City” idea, under discussion for a year, is aimed at creating safer, cleaner, more fun cities and learning lessons that could be applied around the world, he added.
It will have police, fire and ambulance services, schools and could be home to a mix of Toyota employees, retirees and others, Kuffner said.
The development, to be built on the site of a car factory that is planned to be closed by the end of this year, would begin with 2,000 residents in coming years, and also serve as a home to researchers.
Toyota did not disclose costs for the project, whose construction is scheduled to start next year, and which seeks to re-imagine a city, but executives said it had been extensively vetted and had a budget.
The plan for a futuristic community on 71 hectares is a big step beyond proposals from Toyota’s rivals.
Executives at many major automakers have talked about how cities of the future could be designed to cut climate-changing emissions, reduce congestion and apply Internet technology to everyday life.
The company’s proposal showcases not only the ambition of Toyota president and chief executive Akio Toyoda, but also the financial and political resources the company can bring to bear, especially in its home country.
“You know if you build it, they will come,” said Toyoda, who called the project “my personal ‘field of dreams.’”
“I believe it is up to all of us, especially corporations like Toyota, to do our part to help make the world a better place. Woven City is one small, but hopefully significant step, towards fulfilling that promise,” he said.
Toyota Housing, a company unit, has sold more than 100,000 homes in Japan in 37 years.
Toyota said it had commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to design the community.
His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, is known for designing the 2 World Trade Center building in New York City and technology giant Google’s offices in Silicon Valley and London.
“Connected, autonomous, emission-free and shared mobility solutions are bound to unleash a world of opportunities for new forms of urban life,” Ingels told the news conference.
Toyota said it is open to partnerships with other companies seeking to use the project as a testing ground for technology.
Still, Toyoda acknowledged not all may see the wisdom of what could be an expensive and lengthy project.
“You may be thinking, ‘Has this guy lost his mind?’” he told an audience in Las Vegas, to laughter. “‘Is he like a Japanese version of Willy Wonka?’ Perhaps.”
Additional reporting by the Guardian
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