LAS VEGAS - Toyota is planning to build an entire city from scratch at the base of Japan's Mount Fuji. 

Conceived as a prototype for the city of the future, the urban development will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. It will also serve as a laboratory for autonomous cars and will feature "smart homes," artificial intelligence and other technologies.

Toyota unveiled the plan at the 2020 CES technology show that's currently being staged in Las Vegas. The development, to be built at the site of a factory that is scheduled to be closed, will be called 'Woven City' - a reference to Toyota's start as a loom manufacturing company - and it will serve as a home to full-time residents and researchers.

Woven City will have three street types: one for faster vehicles only, another for a mixture of lower speed, personal mobility and pedestrians as well as a park-like promenade for pedestrians only. Only fully-autonomous, zero-emissions vehicles will be allowed on the main thoroughfares.

Toyota says these three street types will “weave together” to form an “organic grid pattern” that will help accelerate the testing of autonomous systems.

Of course, the urban development was designed to be fully sustainable, with buildings made mostly of wood to minimise the carbon footprint, and using traditional Japanese wood joinery. The roofs will feature photo-voltaic solar panels to generate additional power to supplement the hydrogen fuel cells. Ingidinous vegetation and hydroponics will feature prominently too.

The homes will also be a technological showcase for future AI systems, including robots that will assist with daily tasks and sensor-based gizmos that can check occupants’ health and tend to various needs, which Toyota has not specified at this stage.

A step beyond

Executives at many major car companies have talked about how cities of the future could be designed to cut climate-changing emissions from vehicles and buildings, reduce congestion and apply internet technology to everyday life. But Toyota's plan to build a futuristic community on 175 acres near Mt. Fuji is a big step beyond what rivals have proposed.

The proposal highlights not only Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda's ambition, but also the financial and political resources Toyota can bring to bear, especially in its home country.

Toyota estimates that around 2000 people will live in the city initially, with construction slated to start next year. Toyoda called the project "my personal 'field of dreams.'

"You know if you build it, they will come."

“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," Toyoda added.

"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”. 

Toyota said it has commissioned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to design the community. Ingels' firm designed the 2 World Trade Center building in New York and Google's offices in Silicon Valley and London.

Toyota said it is open to partnerships with other companies that want to use the project as a testing ground for technology. 

IOL & Reuters