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Toyota announces futuristic city plans, autonomous vehicles only allowed

Toyota is planning to build a prototype “city of the future” in Japan that will test out new technologies on the residents who live there full time.

The Japanese automotive firm will build what it is calling 'Woven City' on a 175-acre site at the base of Mount Fuji and will deploy autonomation, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and AI in real-world environments.

Under the city’s masterplan, streets will be woven together in an organic grid pattern and will have one of three designations: for faster vehicles only; for a mix of lower-speed vehicles, personal mobility and pedestrians; and for pedestrians only.

Only fully autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares to move residents around.

The streets and the city are planned to be fully sustainable, with buildings made mostly of wood using traditional Japanese joinery and robotised production methods to minimise the carbon footprint.

Residential buildings will be equipped with the latest human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. They will also be equipped with sensor-based AI to check the occupants’ health and take care of basic needs.

Toyota plans to populate the city with its own employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, visiting scientists and industry partners.

Initially just 2,000 people will live there, but this is expected to increase as the city evolves. Ground-breaking for the site is scheduled for early 2021 on the site of a car factory that is planned to be closed by the end of 2020.

The Woven City was revealed at CES 2020 and is a reference to Toyota’s origins as a loom manufacturer.

“It’s hard to learn something about a smart city if you are only building a smart block,” said James Kuffner, chief executive officer for the Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, speaking to Reuters.

The idea has been under discussion for a year and is aimed at trialling technologies that could be more broadly rolled out in cities across the world.

Toyota did not disclose costs for the project, but executives said it had been extensively vetted and had a budget.

“You know if you build it, they will come,” said Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who called the project “my personal ‘field of dreams.’”

Toyota Housing, a company unit, has sold more than 100,000 homes in Japan over the last 37 years.

Toyota said it had commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to design the community. Ingels’ firm designed the 2 World Trade Center building in New York and technology giant Google’s offices in both Silicon Valley, California, and London.

Toyota said it is open to partnerships with other companies seeking to use the project as a testing ground for technology.

It is not the first automotive firm to embrace smart cities. Nissan - Japan’s other major automotive firm - demonstrated its own smart city concept in 2016 which leant heavily on the idea of using electric vehicles as portable batteries for powering homes and storing renewable energy.

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