Packing Greater Appeal into the i-ROAD with a More Convenient Charging Environment!
Checking Out SMILE LOCK with a Phase 1 Test Drive Pilot

PROTOTYPING REPORT

With Metropolitan Tokyo as the staging ground, the OPEN ROAD PROJECT was launched with the mission
of infusing further freedom into urban mobility.
As the initiative steadily progressed, one feature emerging as a “brainstorm” of i-ROAD Pilots was “SMILE LOCK”
– a groundbreaking device based upon the idea of sharing power outlets around town.
Now nearly two years into the project, the question naturally arises of how SMILE LOCK has transformed the charging environment in Tokyo.
To get a better idea in this regard, we arranged for Mr. Tashiro, one of our Phase 1 Test Drive Pilots,
to experience how the project has evolved since his stint behind the wheel.
With Metropolitan Tokyo as the staging ground, the OPEN ROAD PROJECT was launched with the mission of infusing further freedom into urban mobility. As the initiative steadily progressed, one feature emerging as a “brainstorm” of i-ROAD Pilots was “SMILE LOCK” – a groundbreaking device based upon the idea of sharing power outlets around town. Now nearly two years into the project, the question naturally arises of how SMILE LOCK has transformed the charging environment in Tokyo. To get a better idea in this regard, we arranged for Mr. Tashiro, one of our Phase 1 Test Drive Pilots, to experience how the project has evolved since his stint behind the wheel.

Throughout the OPEN ROAD PROJECT to date, keen attention has been directed to the ideas expressed by Test Drive Pilots. Such inspirations draw attention to benefits, improvements and other aspects difficult for those of us on the production side to adequately perceive. As such, they hold potential for ushering unprecedented convenience and satisfaction into the realm of mobility with the i-ROAD.

From the very get-go, most all Pilots were immensely upbeat about the project. They commented that the exceptional handling performance inspired them to get their i-ROADs out on the road at every opportunity. At the same time, the majority also raised the issue of “inadequate charging spaces.” Phase 1 Pilot Mr. Tashiro was among those voicing this sentiment. Within the interview we conducted with Mr. Tashiro back in 2015, he cited the frequent struggles encountered in locating parking lots with recharging capabilities.

Developed in response to such Pilot reactions was SMILE LOCK – a new concept device aimed at effective sharing of the power outlets available in the city. This stemmed from mulling over the question of to what degree comfort and convenience can be added to urban mobility via the ability to charge the i-ROAD at niche locations in buildings, open spots in front of homes and other idle space. To better explore this area, for this feature we accompanied Mr. Tashiro on inspection visits to SMILE LOCK outfitted Small Space Parking (SSP) facilities set up around Tokyo.

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Trouble-free charging at spaces readily assessable from the street

Trouble-free charging at spaces readily assessable from the street

Mr. Tashiro, selected as a Phase 1 Test Drive Pilot through our open recruitment process, reports that he used his assigned i-ROAD to cover the distance between his home in the Shinagawa district of Tokyo and the design office where he serves as owner-director. Our tour began from his office in the Ebisu area. The white i-ROAD unit used in this run struck a handsome appearance against the black wall of that building. Encountering the car again after so long, Mr. Tashiro’s face instinctively lit up in a broad smile: “It’s like meeting up with your own dear child after an extended absence!”

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Getting out on the road, our first stop was a Small Space Parking facility in a residential district of the Shirokanedai neighborhood selected through public recruitment of i-ROAD parking space owners. This SSP was equipped for power charging, which excited Mr. Tashiro: “During the weeks I served as a Test Drive Pilot, I always felt that being able to park and charge at spots like this would be so much handier!”

This also marked his first encounter with SMILE LOCK, and Mr. Tashiro gives the system a big thumbs up: “With the center section turning and flashing, it certainly is easy to see and locate immediately.” He then wasted no time in using his smartphone app to reserve and hold the parking space. “When you need to charge at parking lots in the center of town, it first takes time to get the ticket to enter, followed by the search for available spaces usually deep in the lot. When you’re in a rush, this can prove frustrating and sometimes frantic. It’s a tremendous improvement to have the SSP right in front of a home, where you can pull in right from the street and charge up free of such hassle!”

Our next destination was the bustling Shibuya quarter. Being able to park the i-ROAD in an SSP at the very center of the business and shopping district, Mr. Tashiro appeared fully satisfied with the convenience factor: “This is outstanding! I can go to a movie, tour an art gallery or two or otherwise kick back and relax while the car is charging!” He reported that he frequents Tokyu Bunkamura event hall, makes the rounds of galleries in the upscale Shoto district and other areas in and around Shibuya, making this an ideal parking location at such times.

Our final stop on the spin was “co-lab” – a shared working space venue in the Daikanyama locale just next to Shibuya. The ground floor of the building houses a parking lot equipped with the SMILE LOCK system, making it possible to charge the i-ROAD right on-site. Relaxing in the second floor cafe during the period needed to fully recharge, we asked Mr. Tashiro for his impressions of trying out SMILE LOCK for the first time.

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Enhanced appeal for i-ROAD with a solution to the charging challenge

Enhanced appeal for i-ROAD with a solution to the charging challenge

―― What are your impressions after using SMILE LOCK?

Tashiro: I particularly like the ease of reserving spaces with my smartphone app. The system design is also neat and attractive, conveying the sensation of operating a genuinely futuristic device.

―― You looked surprised by the SMILE LOCK installed in front of a normal residence.

Tashiro: I often go to Ginza, Nihonbashi and other districts for work meetings. There are few charging spaces in the residential districts along those routes, which made it a bit tense when driving the i-ROAD to such appointments. That was due to worries about making it back to the office or home when the remaining charge was low. Being able to promptly park and charge in front of residences along the way really contributes to driving with greater peace of mind.

―― Do you feel this feature can resolve the charging worries that bothered you before?

Tashiro: When I was operating the i-ROAD as a Test Drive Pilot, I constantly fretted about being able to recharge. Since this is an electric vehicle, the degree of power consumed can vary widely by how you actually step on the accelerator. As a result, I was always peering at the power gauge to try and reduce how much of the charge I used up. If introduction of SMILE LOCK helps increase the availability of charging spaces, it will prove possible to recharge with more ease and frequency. Being able to reserve recharging-equipped spaces near locations of meetings or dining engagements should definitely support increasingly effective use of my time.

―― Has your impression of the i-ROAD changed from your test-driving days?

Tashiro: Oh yes. Thanks to improvements in the charging environment, which ranked as my single greatest source of concern before, I really sense that the charisma of the i-ROAD has been elevated. My affection for the car has been rekindled by this reunion, and I’d truly like to own one of these if and when they become available on the market.

Enhanced appeal for i-ROAD with a solution to the charging challenge

Enhanced appeal for i-ROAD with a solution to the charging challenge

―― What are your impressions after using SMILE LOCK?

Tashiro: I particularly like the ease of reserving spaces with my smartphone app. The system design is also neat and attractive, conveying the sensation of operating a genuinely futuristic device.

―― You looked surprised by the SMILE LOCK installed in front of a normal residence.

Tashiro: I often go to Ginza, Nihonbashi and other districts for work meetings. There are few charging spaces in the residential districts along those routes, which made it a bit tense when driving the i-ROAD to such appointments. That was due to worries about making it back to the office or home when the remaining charge was low. Being able to promptly park and charge in front of residences along the way really contributes to driving with greater peace of mind.

―― Do you feel this feature can resolve the charging worries that bothered you before?

Tashiro: When I was operating the i-ROAD as a Test Drive Pilot, I constantly fretted about being able to recharge. Since this is an electric vehicle, the degree of power consumed can vary widely by how you actually step on the accelerator. As a result, I was always peering at the power gauge to try and reduce how much of the charge I used up. If introduction of SMILE LOCK helps increase the availability of charging spaces, it will prove possible to recharge with more ease and frequency. Being able to reserve recharging-equipped spaces near locations of meetings or dining engagements should definitely support increasingly effective use of my time.

―― Has your impression of the i-ROAD changed from your test-driving days?

Tashiro: Oh yes. Thanks to improvements in the charging environment, which ranked as my single greatest source of concern before, I really sense that the charisma of the i-ROAD has been elevated. My affection for the car has been rekindled by this reunion, and I’d truly like to own one of these if and when they become available on the market.

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Support in motoring around the city with expanded peace of mind

Support in motoring around the city with expanded peace of mind

With the popularization of cellphones and other high-tech devices, our daily lives continue to become more streamlined. On the negative side, the matter of needing to be concerned about where and when to recharge these gadgets has surfaced. Faced with that, more and more users appear to be carrying along backup batteries in their briefcases or handbags.

By its very nature, SMILE LOCK is a device with ample potential to resolve such urban themes. As Mr. Tashiro noted: “My sense is that the changes being enacted in the charging environment have clearly raised the appeal of the i-ROAD.” Acting on this suggestion, rendering it possible to readily charge in more locations is certain to further improve the standing of the i-ROAD as an attractive and handy means of transport. Against this backdrop, expanding the circle of collaboration aimed at making the most of SMILE LOCK is more likely than ever to lead to a higher caliber of comfort and convenience in urban mobility.

TEXT BY Yui Sato(contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Tomoyuki Kato

01 May 2017

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SMILE LOCK Outlet
The recognition-format power outlet engineered for mutual sharing of electricity.
http://openroad-project.com/prototyping/smile-lock