The World on Wheels
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Toyota Motor Corporation’s president offered a specific answer to that question: the e-Palette Concept. It’s a fully connected mobility ecosystem populated by automated vehicles that promises to usher in this new era in a very tangible form.
e-Palette will be put to the test by such companies as Amazon, Didi, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, founding members of the e-Palette Alliance. Other service providers are expected to follow, taking advantage of the system’s open-source vehicle control interface that will allow for a wide array of applications.
“The automobile industry is clearly amidst its most dramatic period of change as technologies like electrification and connectivity and automated driving are making significant progress,” says Toyoda. “This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers.”
How Does It Work?
There are two major components to e-Palette:
- A next generation battery-electric and fully automated concept vehicle designed to serve as an interactive and transactional platform on wheels for a multitude of purposes, such as parcel delivery, ride sharing and retail sales.
- A fully connected network within which these vehicles will move, be tracked and — via software — be reconfigured in sync with users’ needs. This ecosystem will leverage Toyota’s proprietary Mobility Services Platform, announced in 2016. But its control interface will employ an open-source approach so alliance partners will be able to install their own automated driving and vehicle management technologies to meet their specific requirements.
So, for example, Amazon could use an e-Palette vehicle to deliver packages to customers. But another company, say one that specializes in women’s shoes, could transform that same vehicle into a retail store that goes to customers rather than require customers come to it.
“By combining several e-Palettes in one place, businesses and communities can quickly create a mobile hub for services ranging from medical clinics to entertainment to festivals,” says Toyoda. “And every e-Palette can be reconfigured for a variety of applications within a single 24-hour day. It will all be automatically managed by our mobility services platform and serviced by our retail network.”
The e-Palette vehicle will be offered in three different lengths. Each features a flat, low floor and a mostly barrier-free interior space for maximum flexibility. As the e-Palettes move within the network, they will transmit data to the Toyota Big Data Center through a global communication platform. This connectivity could support such things as payments for products and services as well as maintenance of the vehicles in partnership with Toyota’s dealers.
When Will It Become Real?
That’s still to be determined. Toyoda said elements of e-Palette will make their debut at the Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games 2020 in Tokyo. Feasibility testing in various regions, including the U.S., will continue in the years that follow.
“We recently launched a global initiative we call ‘Start Your Impossible’ in support of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” says Toyoda. “It’s become something of a mission statement for me personally, because I hate being told, ‘it can’t be done.’ And while I do believe in healthy competition, I’m less concerned about getting there first as I am about getting it right and finding ways to use technology to benefit as many as possible. e-Palette is one such example.”