LAS VEGAS – Toyota uses the CES 2018 stage to share its latest vision for future mobility: e-Palette, an open architecture for all-electric, autonomous vehicles that look like rolling cargo boxes and could be used as everything from food trucks and mobile shoe stores to portable medical clinics and barrier-free hospital shuttles.
The name is intended to reflect an artist’s canvas, with infinite potential. When Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020, Toyota plans to have e-Palette vehicles shuttling people to and from various venues. In addition, Toyota announces five partners (Amazon, DiDi, Pizza Hut, Uber and Mazda) have joined development of e-Palette, and those companies also will be involved in services to be offered during the Olympics and Paralympics.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda says the automaker’s Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous Chauffeur technology will control the vehicles, but that partner companies also will have the freedom to use their own automated driving systems instead.
“e-Palette will include Toyota’s Guardian (semi-autonomous safety) technology, which will act as a safety net,” Toyoda says at the press conference. “It’s an open, flexible platform that can be easily adapted to support a range of uses including ride-sharing, delivery and retail. Today, you have to travel to the store. In the future, with e-Palette, the store will come to you!”
He says several e-Palettes could be clustered in one place, allowing businesses or communities to quickly create mobile hubs for services and even entertainment and festivals. “I mean, just think of how great e-Palette would be at Burning Man!” Toyoda says.
Mazda has joined the initiative as a partner focused on battery-electric propulsion for the vehicles. At this point, Toyota is not discussing battery capacity or range, but company executives say other propulsion systems may be considered in the future.
Toyota and its five alliance partners will leverage the automaker’s Mobility Services Platform, which was announced in 2016 as Toyota’s framework for a range of connected vehicle applications. The e-Palette concept relies on an open vehicle control interface and a set of software tools to allow flexible uses for partner companies.
“Think of it as a kind of plug-and-play, open platform,” Toyoda says. “Because we believe flexibility and open standards are the key to providing the best services to consumers.”
Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute CEO, says plans call for e-Palette vehicles to run in Level 4 autonomous mode during the Olympic test demos.
Beyond the 2020 Olympics, Pratt says the automaker wants to test the system in major metropolitan areas, but there is no timetable to do so. He says there will be at least three different sizes of e-Palette vehicles to start, and the demo vehicle displayed here at CES is considered the medium size.
The ultimate goal for e-Palette is to change the way people relate to vehicles and to lessen the monotony of being stuck in a “steel box,” for sometimes hours at a time in traffic, he says. “We bring the customer into the car, but the relationship is different and more expansive than what the relationship right now is between the customer and car.
“Now, the person is either a driver or passenger. We think there are many other things human beings can do within a vehicle than what we do right now.”