Toyota Is Building A Model Smart City In Japan

On January 6, Toyota announced that it plans on building a model “city of the future,” called “Woven City,” at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan on a 175-acre site. The city will be “powered by hydrogen fuel cells and functioning as a laboratory for autonomous cars, ‘smart homes,’ artificial intelligence and other technologies.” Toyota made the announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

“It’s hard to learn something about a smart city if you are only building a smart block,” James Kuffner, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, said. Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation added, “[y]ou know if you build it, they will come.”

Additionally, the “‘Woven City’…is aimed at creating safer, cleaner, more fun cities and learning lessons that could be applied around the world…It will have police, fire and ambulance services, schools and could be home to a mix of Toyota employees, retirees and others.” The project will re-conceptualize a modern city. The new city was described as “a ‘living laboratory’ that will allow researcher[s], scientists and engineers to test emerging technology in a ‘real world environment.’” The city will serve as a safer controlled environment for testing than a standard city, while providing real-life use, unlike a testing simulation.

“With people[,] buildings and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test AI technology, in both the virtual and the physical world, maximizing its potential,” Toyoda said. “We want to turn artificial intelligence into intelligence amplified.” This is one way the model city is intending to help and test technology. It is also testing self-driving cars and helping to cut down on emissions. CNN reported, “[o]nly fully autonomous and zero-emission cars will be permitted to operate on its streets. A fleet of self-driving vehicles known as Toyota e-Palettes will be used for delivery and retail purposes.”

The “Woven City” will be have about 2,000 residents in the next few years and will house researchers. The model city will be built where a car factory planned to close at the end of 2020 is located. The project will begin in 2021. Toyota did not provide costs or a timeline for the venture.

Toyota is not completely new to the housing industry. Toyota Housing, a division of the company has sold more than 100,000 homes in Japan over the course of 37 years. Toyota has hired Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect, to design the model city. Ingels has designed the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City and Google’s offices in Silicon Valley and London.

“Homes in the Woven City will serve as test sites for new technology, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily life,” Ingels said. “These smart homes will take advantage of full connectivity using sensor-based AI to do things automatically, like restocking your fridge, or taking out your trash — or even taking care of how healthy you are.”

It is unclear what regulation or disclosure Toyota’s Woven City will undergo with the Japanese government. In an age where technology and social media have spurred data privacy issues and a litany of lawsuits, Toyota’s plans to protect its Woven City residents’ privacy are critical since it appears to collect their personal data from simply living in the city. Toyota has not said who would have access to the data, how it would protect residents’ data and if there are any nondisclosure agreements residents would need to sign prior to inhabiting the model city. Japan has various laws about data privacy, that Toyota will have to comply with. It will also likely have to get permission, approval and work closely with Japan’s Personal Information Protection Commission. Toyota’s city will also have to comply with local residential rules. It is likely that Toyota will use the data for business development and product purposes.

Other automakers have discussed how futuristic cities could be built to “cut climate changing emissions, reduce congestion and apply internet technology to everyday life.” Toyota has stated that it is willing to partner with other companies that want to use the city as a technology testing site. There have been other smart city attempts, however, most did not come to fruition.

Google’s smart city project in Toronto has itself run into regulatory hurdles.