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Toyota’s Woven City will be constructed on the site of a former manufacturing plant in Japan. (Toyota)

CES 2020: Toyota to build a city of the future

Woven City is Toyota’s ground-up vision of a completely technology-integrated town.

There’s hardly a region on Earth that Toyota doesn’t reach. At the 2020 CES conference, the company announced a visionary project of similar scope, saying it intends to build a “prototype town of the future” to prove out new technologies of all kind, not just transportation-related. Toyota’s Woven City is envisioned as “home to full-time residents and researchers who will be able to test and develop technologies such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and artificial intelligence in a real-world environment.”

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda appeared genuinely energized in announcing Woven City, saying “having the opportunity to build an entire city from the ground up – even on a very small scale like this – is in many respects the opportunity of a lifetime.” He said the 175-acre site of a now-decommissioned Toyota manufacturing plant will be the foundation for Woven City, with groundbreaking beginning in 2021.

And “within five years we will have people moving in,” said James Kuffner, CEO of Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development Inc., in a media gathering following the CES announcement. He said it is too early to discuss the eventual cost of building Woven City, which is targeted to eventually see about 2,000 residents. Some residents might include those interested in partnering with Toyota in Woven City’s development, for which the company is soliciting applicants at the website.

Infrastructure clean slate
Akio Toyoda said a complete simulation of the town will come first. “We plan to build our city in the virtual world first, creating a ‘digital twin’ that will allow us to test our theories before we build.” One of Woven City’s prime advantages is that the site will permit installation of “an infrastructure of the future” that employs the latest communications and connectivity technology. This includes a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure to connect people, buildings and vehicles.

Toyoda also pointedly noted that Woven City is earmarked to test connected artificial intelligence “in both the virtual and the physical realms – maximizing its potential.” Toyoda said the company has sensed a recent and growing backlash regarding artificial intelligence and sees the new town as an opportunity to transform artificial intelligence to intelligence amplified. “In a world where the negative aspects of artificial intelligence seem to be on the rise,” Toyoda said, “this will be an opportunity to apply it with integrity and trust.”

Meanwhile, Kuffner said “there are many possibilities with improved infrastructure,” that includes underground placement of hydrogen fuel cells and routes for robotic delivery of goods to the network of homes, laboratories, retailers and even light manufacturing envisioned for the mixed-use town. The fuel cells, coupled with solar panels on the rooftops of the predominantly wood buildings (constructed using traditional Japanese wood-joining techniques), are meant to make Woven City grid-independent and low in carbon generation.

What about getting around?
Ironically, Toyota slightly downplayed the pure transportation aspects of Woven City, with executives noting the comparatively small size of the site means mobility needs are seen mostly as “last-mile” modes such as scooters and other personal-mobility options. The company’s e-Palette automated vehicle platform – which can be sized and bodied for a variety of uses – figures prominently in the Woven City master plan; a video showed vehicles even entering buildings from outside.

“Once vehicles become emissions-free, that opens up possibilities that aren’t there today,” said Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, CEO and founding partner, Bjarke Ingels Group, who Toyota commissioned for the design of Woven City. His group’s prominent projects include Google’s headquarters complexes in California and London and 2 World Trade Center in New York. Ingels explained that the town’s transportation master plan segregates streets of three varieties: streets for faster, larger vehicles; a mixed-use route for lower-speed, personal-use vehicles and pedestrians; and a third, promenade-type path exclusively for pedestrians.

Ingels also said the town might include automated-vehicle (AV)-only zones and the projected extra “right-of-way” freed by the design could lead to “a rebirth of things that are almost forgotten” in today’s cities, social gathering areas such as marketplaces and plazas. He said the design explores methods to stimulate human interaction that have become largely outmoded in cities thanks to new connectivity and social-media options.

Project never finished
Crucially, said Toyoda, the Woven City will never be truly complete and other company executives told media that the design is intended to continually evolve and adapt according to how the town and its technologies are working in residents’ daily routines. The town’s digital twin also will be leveraged to study the evolution and build-out of the design, helping to accelerate the implementation of design and technology, said Kuffner. He added that the simulation environment can help insure the infrastructure is in harmony with the needs of the town and the occupants.

Toyota’s invitation to other commercial and academic partners, as well as scientists and researchers from around the world is projected to bring residents that stay anywhere from a from a few months to longer. They’ll mix with Toyota employees and their families, retired citizens and others expected to make up the majority of Woven City residents. “We plan to roll out the welcome mat to anyone interested in participating in this project with us, to anyone inspired to improve the way we live in the future,” said CEO Toyoda. “I truly believe this is a project that can benefit everyone – not just Toyota.”

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