ReadWriteDrive is an ongoing series covering the future of transportation.
The only thing that’s predictable about the annual Tokyo Motor Show is the unpredictability of the strange concept cars on the floor.
The 2013 iteration, opening today, doesn't deviate from the script. While it can be difficult to categorize what's on display, or even to find a theme among the high-tech concept vehicle, the most high-profile cars at the 2013 show cast the future of automotive design as wearable technology that also moves you down the road.
Start with the world premiere of Toyota’s FV2 concept, which eschews a steering wheel—how 20th century—in favor of a vehicle system that responds to how the driver shifts his or her body. Those movements are interpreted in the context of information supplied by the roadway infrastructure, such as approaching intersections, traffic, and accidents.
Voice and image recognition technology, Toyota says, will allow the car and driver to develop a relationship, much like a horse and its rider come to know each other’s signals. Those signals are delivered to the driver via an “augmented reality display on the windshield” as well as the vehicle body that changes colors. Think of it as part car and part mood ring.
Pulse of the Driver
Toyota and Denso, a major auto parts supplier, are also unveiling technology—not employed in the FV2—that will monitor the driver’s pulse to warn of an impending heart attack. Two electrical monitoring devices are mounted like an electrocardiogram on the steering wheel, and when gripped by the driver, monitor cardiovascular signals.
Data would be analyzed in real-time, with warnings of problems communicated by voice and via the car’s navigation system. One plan is to have a car’s autonomous features take over in the event of a heart attack.
It might sound far-fetched, but autonomous driving systems being developed today in the auto industry are starting to incorporate cameras aimed at drivers, as well as the road. If the car is doing the work, it would be all too easy for drivers to get distracted or nod off. Face recognition technology could trigger alarms to bring a driver to attention if the system detects closing eyelids.
From Driving to Riding to Soaring
Meanwhile, Nissan unveiled its BladeGlider concept, meant to lend electric car driving a sense of soaring like a bird—although the Japanese auto company describes the high performance of the car like a “swept wing aircraft.” The triangular design puts the two front wheels very close together, to creating optimal aerodynamics.
The EV’s battery pack is mounted low and to the rear. Electric motors go directly into the rear wheels, eliminating the need for a transmission of any kind. The vehicle is wrapped in a light-weight carbon fiber body.
Nissan’s goal is to provide the driver with a sense of gliding, enhanced by a 360-degree view from the cockpit.
One other concept vehicle deserves a mention, even if it doesn’t take the notion of human-car technology to a new level. Well, it does, in the sense that Daihatsu’s FC Deck Truck brings the functionality of a transport vehicle to human scale. Besides, it's one cool-looking truck.
Styled like a futuristic semi-trailer, it occupies about the same length as a Scion iQ or Smart ForTwo, while its height is about six and a half feet tall. The FC Deck is powered by a electric fuel cell powertrain—pointing to a future where the transport of small loads of goods can occur at a eye-level and without tailpipe emissions.