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Toyota hatches electric Insect

Head in the cloud: Toyota’s Smart Insect concept uses face recognition to detect, authenticate and greet registered drivers and enables in-car access to cloud-based online services.

Cloud-connected EV concept revealed as Toyota trials integrated transport network

2 Oct 2012

TOYOTA is demonstrating a tiny single-seat electric vehicle concept at this week’s CEATEC advanced technologies exhibition in Japan, packed with gadgets such as cloud connectivity and automated recognition of the driver’s gestures, voice and face.

Similar – if less advanced – vehicles are also hitting the streets of Toyota City in Japan this week as part of Toyota’s Ha:mo (harmonious mobility) trial to integrate – and make more efficient – public and personal forms of transport.

The Toyota Smart Insect (information network social electric city transporter) concept resembles a cross between the Renault Twizy and a Smart ForTwo.

Designed to “support the convenient, comfortable use of cars” in the daily lives of urban commuters, the Smart Insect uses face recognition to detect, authenticate and greet registered drivers when they approach the vehicle.

The gullwing-style doors are opened by the vehicle recognising the driver’s hand gesture and once inside, a direct connection to the cloud-based Toyota Smart Centre service enables voice-recognition to operate the vehicle, which can also predict driver intentions and act accordingly.

Voice commands can also be used to operate smartphone-based navigation and online services.

 center imageLeft: Toyota's Ha:mo harmonious mobility trial.

If the driver’s home is equipped with the relevant technology, the Smart Insect can enable them to perform tasks such as checking locks or setting the air-conditioning and heating controls ready for when they return.

Toyota’s Ha:mo network trial comprises a smartphone app called Ha:mo Navi and electric vehicles, called Ha:mo ride, which are like a basic version of the Smart Insect concept.

Sponsored by the economy, trade and industry ministry and done under the Toyota City low-carbon verification project, the Ha:mo trial uses smartphones to help manage transport network supply and demand.

It also makes the tiny EVs available for short-distance travel through a public vehicle-sharing service.

The app suggests the most efficient use of multiple transport methods to reach a destination, taking into account congestion and including availability of space at park and ride facilities when use of a personal vehicle is included in route-planning criteria.

Toyota plans to later include data gathered by Ha:mo Ride for better-integrated route information, including recommendations based on travel history and to encourage users to alter the way they travel depending on conditions and the actions of other Ha:mo Ride users.

The trial will also collaborate with an energy data management system (EDMS) being piloted in Toyota City, with the aim of reducing energy used in the transportation system, taking into consideration the battery status of plug-in vehicles participating in the project when calculating routes.

Ha:mo Ride comprises unmanned vehicle sharing stations at four locations in Toyota City, two at a university and two at railway stations, with about 100 users comprising students and university employees who will gain access to the system free of charge.

Smartphones will be used to make vehicle reservations, and swipe cards will provide vehicle access.

The service eventually will be extended across central Toyota City with between 10 and 20 participating stations and about 1000 users, at which point Ha:mo will move to charging usage fees.

Toyota is also considering including Yamaha electric motorcycles and electric-assisted bicycles in the transport network and plans to use the EDMS to promote the use of off-peak power by managing the charging of plug-in vehicles.

In June, Brisbane became the first Australian city to integrate car sharing with its public transport network, partnering with car sharing company GoGet to provide a fleet of six cars that can be accessed by subscribers using the city’s existing Translink electronic ticketing system.

French car-maker Citroen has established what it calls the Multicity project in its home country, using a website and smartphone apps to integrate public transport, airlines, bicycle-sharing schemes and hire cars.

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