Toyota just revealed its Concept-i car, and the car will take your relationship to the next level. As in, it will really get to know you. It’ll know where you like to go and your feelings, and it can even talk with you to keep you alert.
“It’s really easy to lose sight of why we build cars,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales after he unveiled the prototype on Wednesday at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “We make them for people, and at Toyota, we think the most important question isn’t whether the vehicle will be equipped with automated or connected technologies. Of course they will.”
“But the most important question is this: ‘what will the relationship be like between the new vehicles of the future and people who use them?’”
Although the car is still a concept, it’s supposed to focus on user experience. Rather than promoting Concept-i as a fully autonomous car, which many car companies are aiming for, Concept-i focuses on the relationship between the car and the driver, improving the driving abilities of both machines and humans.
Carter said the technology of Concept-i aims to be warm and friendly, and the car has a built-in artificial intelligence named “Yui” (pronounced “yuey”). Over time, the car will learn your preferences and lifestyles. It’s a car that people of all levels of ability can experience, increasing mobility access for users who can’t drive.
But not only that, the car works with you to keep you safe. The car will have a heads-up display to help you keep your eyes on the road. Information will appear on the dashboard or seats or wherever you need it, whenever you need it. And since your mood can affect how you drive, the car can also monitor your attention and emotions.
“At Toyota we know artificial intelligence is our future, but we also know people come first, so as technology advances we are focusing on that relationship between the car and the driver,” Carter said.
But that leads to the question of how safe is safe. Right now, about 34,000 people die in car accidents every year, according to the CDC. If a car is just as safe as a human driver, and 35,000 people die a year from machine-driven cars, will that be acceptable? Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute, doesn’t think so. And even if that number is halved, that won’t be acceptable either.
“Society tolerates a lot of human error,” Pratt said. “Humans are after all, humans. But we expect machines to be a lot better than us.”
There are many steps to full autonomy, and although many carmakers have said this will happen within the next few years, Pratt says no one is close. However, one step is having the machine hand off the car to a driver when it detects a situation where a human should take over. This requires that the car give the driver sufficient warning, and the longer the driver is disengaged from driving, the longer it takes for the driver to reorient. The system would have to spot trouble 1,500 feet away.
Currently, some vehicles can hand-off to humans at any second, but this requires the driver to supervise the car at all times. It’s easy for people to lose focus or overtrust the system, but some mild secondary tasks can help maintain awareness. For example, truck drivers stay alert by talking on two-way radios and scanning the road. While full autonomy is still years away, one way to save lives is helping humans stay aware. Yui might speak with the driver, similar to truck drivers speaking on two-way radios.
Although Toyota still has a lot of work to do for the concept car, it aims to evaluate the car’s features and technology in Japan in the next few years.
“It has potential for being more than a helpful friend,” Pratt said. “It has the potential to become the kind of friend who looks out for you and keeps you safe.”