Autonomous driving might create major waves among consumers, but Toyota Motor Corp. used CES 2018 to show off a concept that would take it firmly into the business of serving other companies in retail, classified sales and even faciliating government service delivery.
In a keynote presentation that was livestreamed from CES in Las Vegas, Toyota launched e-Palette, which consists of a glassed-in box that drives itself based on the auto maker’s next-generation electric battery platform. It would allow an online-only retailer, for instance, to let consumers walk inside and try on items they normally only experience through a screen. Other uses might include a municipality that wants to offer a mobile health clinic, or a ridesharing service that didn’t want to rely on human drivers and under-utilized taxicabs.
The e-Palette “is one example of our vision for autonomous business applications,” Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda told the CES 2018 crowd.
“It will be fully electric and controlled by chauffeur-mode technologies. Or if they prefer, partner companies can use their own automated driving system instead.”
Toyota’s Guardian technology will act as a ‘safety net’ to e-Palette adopters by providing “an open, flexible platform to support a range of users, including ride sharing, delivery and retail,” Toyoda said.
“Today you have to travel to the store. In the future . . . the store will come to you,” he said, adding that those in the event of festival space could bring additional value to attendees by transporting them to a site or bringing other merchandise to them. “I mean, just think of how great e-Palette would be at Burning Man.”
Naturally, there was some skepticism from CES observers about how readily the world would accept customer experiences based on e-Palette.
In the future there will be neither buildings nor cities. There will simply be e-Palettes, navigating massive highways connecting no-place to no-place. People will slide from one e-Palette to the next to fulfill their needs, never experiencing the outside for more than a minute. https://t.co/jCZCJVpTY8
— Yonah Freemark (@yfreemark) January 8, 2018
While much less exciting than last year’s CES concept, @ToyotaMotorCorp’s e-palette indicates a clear split in AV visions — those that reflect current automotive themes (recognizable cars) and the seemingly inevitable mobile pod/box on wheels. pic.twitter.com/Pcj3QNHRQZ
— mensen auto (@mensenauto) January 8, 2018
Toyoda said every e-Palette can be reconfigured for a variety of applications in a single day and serviced by retail network. Toyota has also created an e-Palette Alliance with firms like Amazon, DiDi, Uber, Pizza Hut, and Mazda to explore how the concept can be brought to market. One early customer will be Pizza Hut, which said it would use the e-Palette for delivery in just two years.
Toyota plans to official launch the e-Palette at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
CES 2018 continues on Tuesday.