CES 2020: Toyota Is Building an Entire City Full of Autonomous Cars and Robots

Woven City will be 175 acres of buildings and infrastructure designed for human-robot harmony

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A man stands in front of a colorful rendering of passengers and self-driving cars in Toyota's Woven City.
Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

At CES 2020, the president of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda, began his company’s official press conference by appearing to announce a flying car. And a giant robot.

Neither of those announcements turned out to be real (which we are very sad about), but he made up for that with what came next—his reveal of the company’s plans to build a brand new ‘prototype’ city.

Built on the site of an old Toyota plant at the base of Mt. Fuji, Woven City will be 175 acres of futuristic buildings and infrastructure designed to explore how humans and robots can thrive together. It’s all just concepts and renderings so far, with construction slated to start in 2021. And if Toyota can make this happen, it could be incredible.

“On this 175-acre site in Higashi-Fuji, Japan, we have decided to build a prototype town of the future, where people live, work, play, and participate in a living laboratory. Imagine a fully-controlled site that would allow researchers, engineers, and scientists the opportunity to freely test technology such as autonomy, mobility-as-a-service, robotics, smart home connected technology, AI, and more, in a real world environment. 

This will be a truly unique opportunity to create an entire community or city from the ground up. And allow us to build an infrastructure of the future that is connected and sustainable. Powered by Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell technologies, it will be a chance to collaborate with other business partners and to invite all interested scientists and researchers from around the world.”

-Akio Toyoda

When Woven City is complete, if you want to do research on urban autonomy or long-term human robot interactions, then you can just move into the city for a while and work from there. With a population made up of both long-term residents and guest researchers, it will be a unique chance, Toyota says, to test and develop new technologies in a real-world environment. Or at least, an environment that’s as real as a fantasy city can be. 

Woven City will be designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who described the typical street that you find in most cities today as “a mess, with everything and nothing everywhere.” Ingels split the streets in Woven City into three separate tree-covered routes, one each for fully autonomous vehicles, personal mobility systems, and pedestrians. The three routes are all woven together (hence the city’s name and logo) into a grid of three-by-three blocks, each framing a park or courtyard.

The buildings in Woven City are all made out of wood, combining traditional Japanese wood joinery with “new robotic production methods.” Each block combines living, working, and recreation spaces. All of the more industrial infrastructure is hidden below ground, including a network of robotic vehicles and autonomous material handling systems to take care of the transportation and delivery of goods. Meanwhile, AI and home robots will be everywhere, assisting with daily life in ways that haven’t even been fully explored in today’s research labs, including restocking your fridge and taking out the trash.

There is, of course, a long way to go between the concept art that Toyota showed at its CES 2020 press conference and a physical city in Japan. Some of the robots were recognizable, at least—the autonomous vehicles look to be based on Toyota’s e-Palette concept car [PDF], and we even spotted ElliQ and something HSR-like in the concept video. All we know about the timeline is that construction will start in 2021, and that Woven City will be built in several phases. During his CES presentation, Toyoda did give a little wink to the level of optimism embodied in this project in an unexpectedly candid way:

“By now, you may be thinking, has this guy lost his mind? Is he like a Japanese version of Willy Wonka? Perhaps. But I truly believe that this is a project that can help everyone. I believe it’s up to all of us, especially corporations like Toyota, to do our part to help make the world a better place. It’s a responsibility and a promise we don’t take lightly. And Woven City will be a small but hopefully significant step towards fulfilling that promise.”

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

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Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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