Searching for "Urban Niches" Unmarked on Any Map

- Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 1 -

OPEN ROAD INNOVATION REVIEW

OPEN ROAD PROJECT prototyping has paved the way for the supply of a steady stream of new services to today's mobility scene.
Such progress prompts the question of exactly what factors provided the cues for the birth of these new services.
In this two-part series, we probe some of little-known episodes behind the decision to bring this project to fruition.
To begin, we want to zero in on "Small Space Parking."
Just how did this service, which is concerned with transforming small and narrow spaces conventionally existing
as "urban niches" into i-ROAD-exclusive parking slots, come into being and grow to where it stands today?
To get some answers, we talked with Mr. Kazuhiro Shimura, Creative Director for the OPEN ROAD PROJECT.
OPEN ROAD PROJECT prototyping has paved the way for the supply of a steady stream of new services to today's mobility scene. Such progress prompts the question of exactly what factors provided the cues for the birth of these new services. In this two-part series, we probe some of little-known episodes behind the decision to bring this project to fruition. To begin, we want to zero in on "Small Space Parking." Just how did this service, which is concerned with transforming small and narrow spaces conventionally existing as "urban niches" into i-ROAD-exclusive parking slots, come into being and grow to where it stands today? To get some answers, we talked with Mr. Kazuhiro Shimura, Creative Director for the OPEN ROAD PROJECT.

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The desire to increase small parking spaces while leaving urban landscapes untouched.

The desire to increase small parking spaces while leaving urban landscapes untouched.

– Please tell us about the process leading up to the launch of this new concept parking service known as "Small Space Parking."

In 2014, we conducted a monitor survey in which the i-ROAD was loaned out to members of the general public. The results of that effort included extremely high evaluations for the product itself, with most everyone reporting how “fun and enjoyable” the car had been. Also expressed, however, was considerable dissatisfaction with parking. This reflected the reality that despite the i-ROAD being so compact, under the current conditions there is little choice but to put the car in regular parking lots. When actually parking the vehicle there, furthermore, not only is there plenty of space left over, the charges are the same as for regular cars. This failed to sit well with almost all of our monitors.
Taking such comments to heart, we understood that relying on improvements in the product alone couldn’t lead to the true freedom of mobility being pursued through the i-ROAD project.
In other words, without supplying proper parking spaces in combination with the product, the big changes envisioned in lifestyle patterns will not come to pass. With the OPEN ROAD PROJECT also getting off the ground around that time, we set out in the quest to provide Small Space Parking as a parking and charging service.

– How did you go about building a network of such small spaces?

Under conventional thinking, it would naturally be conceivable to provide exclusive parking lots, charging stations and other infrastructure. However, increasing the number of such facilities in cities solely for the sake of the i-ROAD would end up further cramping the already limited spatial dimensions of urban areas. Rather than building new facilities, therefore, we decided that the best approach to quickly overcoming the challenge at hand would be to make effective use of existing amenities. Walking the streets with that thought in mind, we soon realized that there are plenty of small spaces around the city that, while far too cramped for regular-size cars, are sufficient for parking the i-ROAD.
Also catching our attention was the presence, on wall surfaces around the city, of large numbers of electrical sockets for cleaning or vending machines that, while not being used at present, certainly could be. In this way, we noticed that there were numerous opportunities for the i-ROAD out and about town. We figure that coming up with schemes for putting such spaces, sockets and other supports to work would immediately expand spaces for both parking and charging.

 

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Relying on Test Drive Pilots to discover niche spaces.

Relying on Test Drive Pilots to discover niche spaces.

– Yes, it is startling to see some of the completely unlikely parking spaces that exist in the city. How did you go about locating them?

We’ve gotten crucial help from our Test Drive Pilots in coming across new spaces. We call these Pilots "Roving city sensors." As the project progressed, they succeeded in uncovering a steady series of potential new parking spaces. We found it extremely exciting that a new trend was created in which drivers effectively came upon locations unmarked on any map. It was startling, for example, when a Pilot was able to put the narrow space under a stairway to use for parking. Based on their driving data, we’ve been able to expand the i-ROAD parking network. Because finding such spaces is also the key to greater convenience in their own lives, users feel encouraged to search out spaces where they personally would like to park. As it turned out, we’re seeing a steady increase in the number of parking spaces, charging sockets and other service supports. That motivation has served as the key for kicking off the rapid expansion of the service itself.

– What do you see as the next issue to be targeted?

After launching our parking service, the driving distance covered by the Test Drive Pilots during their first two weeks of driving the i-ROAD jumped 10-fold over what it had been before. This represented an undeniable change in the lifestyle patterns of i-ROAD users. Analyzing this data, there was a strong sense of the direction in which we needed to move. That leads to the question of the volume to which we would like to increase such parking spaces going forward. Obviously, like cellphones, the ideal would be to have as many slots as it takes for "unlimited parking" on a monthly basis. Reaching that scale is a theme dependent on the creation of a "sharing" platform capable of supporting ready approaches from landowners to offer up their space for such purposes.
A truly interesting aspect of this business is that it comprises a consummate balance between the respective motivation of three sides – Toyota, landowners and i-ROAD users. For the users, with an increase in locations where the car can be parked representing a happy development, they sense value in paying money for such a service and feel compelled to search out such spots on their own. For the landowners, there are happy benefits from making money even from limited leftover space. For Toyota, the improvements in the driving environment are the resource of happy and welcome results. Through this project, therefore, we’ve come to feel strongly that such a happy balance is the single most important factor for the sharing business. We’re confident that this will provide a crucial hint for car sharing, as well as in the process of considering other new ties between cars and people over the years to come.

In the second part of this interview, we ask Director Shimura about "ROAD KITCHEN" – a new service introduced for use of a 3D printer to produce exterior parts for the i-ROAD.

TEXT BY Ryoko Sugimoto (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Tomoyuki Kato

ISSUED : 31 March 2016

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Article Index

True Customization Means Designing from Scratch – Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 2 – 04 April 2016

Searching for "Urban Niches" Unmarked on Any Map – Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 1 – 31 March 2016

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Article Index

04 April 2016

True Customization Means Designing from Scratch – Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 2 –

31 March 2016

Searching for "Urban Niches" Unmarked on Any Map – Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 1 –

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