We're gonna rock down to Corolla avenue: Toyota to build its own smart city
- Woven City to have a population of 2,000 employees and researchers
- Living laboratory hopes to forge a path for other smart cities to follow
- Only autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be allowed on the roads
What do you do if you can't find a suitable place in which to realise your dream of creating the perfect smart city? Well, if you're Toyota, you build one from scratch.
The Japanese car maker has an ambitious plan to build a prototype smart city from the ground up, to serve as a living laboratory for developing and testing new services and technology.
Called Woven City, it will be located on a 175-acre site at the base of Mount Fuji, a place I'm reliably informed can be very damp and misty.
Toyota plans to break ground in early 2021. Based on that not-so-captivating city design – the grid system – Woven City will eventually be home to around 2,000 employees and their families, retired couples, retailers, visiting scientists, and industry partners.
The plan is for more people to move in as the project evolves. Perhaps a flawed, but ultimately loveable family of Luddites will move there, and inspire a charming new sitcom...but probably not.
"Building a complete city from the ground up, even on a small scale like this, is a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city's infrastructure. With people, buildings and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected AI technology, in both the virtual and the physical realms, maximising its potential," said Toyota president Akio Toyoda.
There are no details yet on exactly the kind of networks that will be deployed in Woven City, but one can safely assume that broad and deep coverage are baked into the design.
One interesting thing to note, given the company in question, is that there will be no cars allowed. Certainly no traditional cars anyway. Only fully autonomous, zero-emission vehicles will be able to travel the clean streets of Woven City.
This is a bit rich given Toyota is something of a laggard these days when it comes to eco driving. Despite pioneering the hybrid, as recently as November, one of its North American executives insisted it sees little demand for all-electric vehicles. It even fought against California's clean air rules.
Anyway, buildings in Woven City will be constructed of sustainable wood, and the whole place will obviously be powered by green energy, in this case a combination of solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells.
Residents will be looked after by sensor-based AI that Toyota says will "check occupants' health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively."
Toyota wants to forge a sense of community and belonging that extends beyond just work life, which is why Woven City will have its fair share of neighbourhood parks, and a large central park for recreation. It sounds reminiscent of a miniature Manhattan, but with clean air and no character.
Woven City promises to be an exciting testbed that could forge a path for other budding smart cities to follow.
Of course, most other cities have a lot more baggage than brand new, built-for-purpose places like Woven City. They bring with them rickety infrastructure, overcrowding, vested interests, and layer upon layer of mind-numbing bureaucracy, not the least of which are planning rules and regs.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to track Woven City's progress, to see what lessons it has to teach, and to see whether it delivers on its promise to set the benchmark for smart cities.
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