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Wednesday, 27.10.2021
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With its ambitious project to build Woven City — a fully-connected, human-centered city at the base of Mount Fuji — Toyota Motor Corp. aims to become a world leader in smart city technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a rethink of how people move and live, and has reinforced the need to create technology that supports “happy, healthy” human life, says Toyota Chief Digital Officer James Kuffner.

“Woven City is not meant to be a technology bubble where the technology stays only within Woven City. It’s really meant to be a place where we incubate it, test it, accelerate it and then export it all over the world,” Kuffner said in a recent interview.

For countries like Japan, addressing the challenges posed by the graying of society — such as mobility and healthy living — is an urgent task. In Woven City, autonomous buses will transport people and smart homes with sensors will check the health of their residents.

Sustainability is another key theme as the world struggles to decarbonize and bring carbon dioxide emissions to net zero before or by 2050.

“If we can build something that has value in a place like Japan and the cities of Japan, I think it can be valuable everywhere,” said Kuffner, a former Google engineer who now serves as CEO of Woven Planet Holdings Inc., a Toyota subsidiary in charge of the project.

Now under construction at the 175-acre site of a recently closed Toyota subsidiary plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, Woven City will serve as a “living laboratory” for self-driving vehicles, delivery robots, smart homes and artificial intelligence, according to Toyota.

With its partial opening slated for as soon as 2024, the city will initially have roughly 360 residents such as seniors, families with children and inventors, and the number is expected to increase to over 2,000 including Toyota employees.

The project is open to partners, and as of June Toyota had received over 4,700 applications from companies and individuals in areas including agriculture, health care and education.

Kuffner said the project is unique because it allows people with innovative ideas to test new technologies “at scale,” get feedback on them from residents and improve them — an example of kaizen, or continuous improvement, a core principle pioneered by Toyota in pursuit of building a lean production system.

The world’s biggest automaker by volume has been accelerating its drive to transform itself into a mobility company, putting more focus on software in the era of connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) vehicles.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has personally invested in Woven Planet and stressed the importance of partnerships and collaboration to achieve mobility for all. The smart city project is an integral part of the company’s drive.

Kuffner was part of Google’s initial engineering team to develop the U.S. tech giant’s self-driving car before joining the Toyota Research Institute in 2016. He became a member of the Toyota board in 2020 amid the automaker’s software push.

Woven Planet has bought the self-driving division of U.S. ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. as well as Carmera Inc., a U.S. automated mapping firm.

Toyota, a pioneer in fuel-cell vehicles, plans to power Woven City’s entire ecosystem with hydrogen and has agreed with Japanese energy company Eneos Corp. to work toward realizing a hydrogen supply chain, from production and delivery to actual use at the site.

Globally, tech giants like Google LLC, Apple Inc. and Inc. are also looking seriously at smart-city development.

Despite the promises of smart cities, skeptics express concerns about huge amounts of personal data that are collected via sensors and other devices and then analyzed. Data security and protection of privacy are seen as hurdles to clear before establishing communities that adopt smart city technology.

Kuffner said Woven City would have “very well thought-out architectures” to ensure good privacy and security, adding that trust goes hand in hand with transparency.

“Toyota has a tradition of building products and services that have earned people’s trust and that’s what we would like to do going forward with this project,” the chief digital officer said.

“Our dreams are big. We have a huge gap between the current reality and our dream,” he said. “But we are climbing the mountain and we have a beautiful Mount Fuji to inspire us.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Noriyuki Suzuki and Naoya Fujisawa

Quelle/Source: The Japan Times, 07.09.2021

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