CES 2017: We chat to Toyota's Concept-i
Armed with a happy face and AI, Concept-i will become your road-trip bestie
Let’s get straight to the point: Toyota says this car, the Concept-i, can measure your emotional response to the places you drive, using the information to build a relationship with you.
And if that isn’t the eeriest thing you read today, give yourself a gold star.
It's the brainchild of those forward-thinking Californians at Toyota’s CALTY design centre, who’ve decided that what we’ll need more of in the future is a car that is personally invested in our lives.
If we’re deciphering their designer-concept-speak correctly, that means that the Concept-i will know when you’re stressed from peak-hour traffic, switching the radio to Al Green and giving you a quick seat massage.
It’s all thanks to an onboard Super-Siri, named ‘Yui’. Represented by a flashing blue circle and a whimsical, casual tone, ‘he’ can be used to operate every function of the car simply by asking.
And working with self-driving tech, if Yui notices that you’re not 100 per cent focused on the road, or if your driving isn’t up to the prevailing climatic conditions, he’ll make the car take over. Expect a lot of helpful hints from Yui about blind spots, potential hazards and the best route to take to your destination.
Interesting as it is to read about it, though, it makes sense to have a go. So TG patiently and politely queued up for a brief sit in the Concept-i at CES, and a short date with Yui.
Our eight-minute ‘drive’ (it was all done on the stand via screens) saw us provide a mug shot so that Yui could use it to read our facial expression (and therefore mood), before divulging some of our hobbies to him.
Yui deduced we quite like driving and directed us to a twisty mountain road, popping the car into autonomous mode for the dull freeway section between us and our destination. When this happened, the seat reclined and started a pulsing massage. When we reached the curvy Californian roads, Yui regaled facts about the local area.
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It was all a little clunky, and felt a touch gimmicky. A real-life iteration feels a long way off just yet. When it arrives, Toyota sees Yui and his owners developing a fulfilling relationship – he’ll see when you’re sad, and ask what’s wrong, and also compile a scrapbook of memories you had together. Hopefully not of the excruciating ‘on this day’ Facebook reminders variety…
You’ll note there aren't any screens on the centre console. Instead, footwell lights determine whether you're in auto or manual drive, while projectors in the rear um, project views onto the seat pillars to warn you about said blind spots and so on. The exterior too, is full of hints: Yui is able to greet driver and passengers as they near, while at the back, messages are displayed to communicate upcoming turns (indicators, perhaps?) or any potential hazards.
The main thread of Toyota’s thinking with the Concept-i is making ‘mobility technology’ – that’s cars, in case you were wondering – “warm, welcoming and, above all, fun.” Now, if you’re the kind that hates it when your microwave beeps, this’ll be a hard sell. That said, automakers across the globe are banking on futurists and early adopters latching on to the idea of constant and consistent interaction between people and their possessions.
Some would argue that, for cars at least, the manual gearbox already fills this role. The future, however, seems to be a whole different method of interaction – less with the mechanical components and much, much more with the electronic.
The CES is really a place to showcase pie-in-the-sky tech, and artificial intelligence was undoubtedly a theme of the automotive hall. Just ask Honda and its AI, Hana. But is this the kind of driving future you’re after? And would you welcome a new digital friend into your circle?