True Customization Means Designing from Scratch

- Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 2 -

OPEN ROAD INNOVATION REVIEW

"ROAD KITCHEN" is a service for the fabrication of original front panels with a 3D printer.
Just what type of vision was behind the birth of this unprecedented vehicle customization service?
Following up on the first part of our interview, in which we discussed Small Space Parking with Mr. Kazuhiro Shimura,
Creative Director for the OPEN ROAD PROJECT, in Volume 2 we directed this customization question to him as well.
"ROAD KITCHEN" is a service for the fabrication of original front panels with a 3D printer. Just what type of vision was behind the birth of this unprecedented vehicle customization service? Following up on the first part of our interview, in which we discussed Small Space Parking with Mr. Kazuhiro Shimura, Creative Director for the OPEN ROAD PROJECT, in Volume 2 we directed this customization question to him as well.

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The i-ROAD – a Car Begging to be Customized.

The i-ROAD – a Car Begging to be Customized.

– What are the origins of the ROAD KITCHEN customization service?

As various different users piloted the i-ROAD around, we received steady input of comments along the lines: "While the i-ROAD is certainly distinctive in itself, if the car comes into more widespread use I would feel the desire to customize it to fit my own particular needs and tastes." This appears to be particularly true of motorcycle buffs, who when test-driving the i-ROAD were generally united in their ideas of how they would like to tailor the vehicle to their own liking. Taking heed of such opinions, we moved to launch ROAD KITCHEN – a new service oriented to respond to that need. In cars on the market to date, there have been few if any services for exterior body parts. That fact motivated us to rise to the challenge on this occasion.

– What prompted your decision to use a 3D printer for such customization?

Though our goal was customization, in view of the cost, variations and other elements involved in the conventional method of first creating molds, there were clearly limits as to what we could do. For that matter, we were also of the mind that creating full-fledged molds was not the path to genuine customization. In the current day and age, we postulated that digital fabrication was the most suitable method, and decided that we wanted to put the merits of 3D printers to work toward that end. With the i-ROAD front panel, however, the large size of the component posed a bit of a struggle in finding a 3D printer capable of outputting at the needed scale. Eventually, we consulted with President Masahiko Inada of Kabuku Inc., a design company with which we have ties, and were able to work through that company’s network to locate a printer capable of addressing our needs.

– What turned out to be the turning point for the project?

Though we finally managed to get the service going, the first stage began with testing of prototypes. We prepared several different design patterns, and arranged those approaches to supply a customization service. As we moved forward with the project, however, we came upon serious doubts as to whether this method was truly worthy of being labeled customization. In the first place, we didn’t think that users would be content with a service at the so-called "arranged" level. That led to the decision to return to the drawing board, where we revamped the project with the idea of creating designs visualized by customers from scratch. That, we concluded, was the only reliable way to describe what we were doing as a true customization service.

 

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Stumbling Across Totally Unexpected Designs.

Stumbling Across Totally Unexpected Designs.

– What issues did you encounter in moving to come up with designs from scratch?

When we halted the use of base designs, setting out instead to adopt a scheme enabling users to come up with designs from their own imaginations, we came up against the challenge of securing designers. In view of the type of service we wanted to develop, we realized that lining up a designer with both the necessary technology and the time to spare for each specific user just wasn’t realistic. To deal with that need, we enlisted the assistance of Lancers. Mobilizing their cloud source network, we were able to track down designers best suited for the project on a case-by-case basis. At length, we finally reached the level of being able to generate designs from scratch around the time that the project moved into Phase 5. Imagining that it would prove tough for normal users to come up with their own designs, we prepared concept sheets on our side, effectively advancing a joint creation scheme based on the sharing of photos and other images with the designers.

– How did user reactions change once you arrived at the point of producing designs from zero?

The enthusiasm with the creation process and the joys at completing a design soared to levels infinitely above those when using arranged designs. As we pretty much expected, designs prepared on the premise of arranging were heavily prone to be basic in caliber. Compared to that, the front panel created by one of our Phase 5 Test Drive Pilots featured an eye-catching yellow colored wood grain design that was a delightful surprise to say the least. It was a genuine joy to see such unforeseen designs pop up like that. In terms of reactions, we got a particular kick out of overseas audiences. For example, we had occasion to introduce the ROAD KITCHEN project in the United States, and the response was considerable. It may very well be that the culture of customization flourishes to a greater degree overseas than here in Japan.

 

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– What do you have planned next?

While there are issues with 3D printer output costs, based on our future forecasts of such overhead we feel confident that solutions will be found in little time at all. With regard to securing the people necessary to generate data, meanwhile, we have scoped out the potential to meet that need by bringing general designers onboard the process. In the future, for example, it would also be great if the market for i-ROAD customization could be incorporated into a platform enabling free buying and selling of designs.

As I noted when discussing "Small Space Parking," we are confident that this project also features an extremely outstanding three-way motivational balance between Toyota, the designers and the users. That is, users are happy because they can get the designs they have in mind custom produced. Designers are happy to have a stage on which to put their own skills to work in full. Toyota, naturally, is pleased with the multiplied charm that all this brings to the i-ROAD. If the structure linking these three sides is firmly in place, we believe that the business will also jell at the stage when the service expands to the general marketplace.

Turning to the question of i-ROAD prototype development from here on, considering the time background, the i-ROAD vehicle concept and other contributing factors, it will be extremely important to proceed on the guiding concept of shifting perspective and take advantages of existing products. I find it exciting, for example, to see small spaces or ideas previously overlooked or going to waste suddenly basking in radiance when exposed to the proper light of day.

Reflecting on this interview, it is clear that the "Small Space Parking" and "ROAD KITCHEN" services have touched the hearts and minds of users not only on the strength of the supreme excellence of the concepts that they exude, but likewise on the force of the sheer energy and passion of Director Shimura and the rest of the OPEN ROAD PROJECT team. This inspires confidence that persistent efforts to seize the initiative and make the improvements needed to bring concrete shape and form to imaginative ideas is destined to spearhead the project mission of "bringing greater freedom to urban mobility."

 

TEXT BY Ryoko Sugimoto (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Tomoyuki Kato

ISSUED : 4 April 2016

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Article Index

True Customization Means Designing from Scratch – Interview with Kazuhiro Shimura, OPEN ROAD PROJECT Creative Director: Volume 2 – 4 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

4 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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