The time has arrived, at last…
For the challenge by the “i-ROAD,” “a vehicle engineered by Toyota to realize greater freedom in urban mobility,” and “Pilots” recruited from the general public to open up the megalopolis of Tokyo as a bold stage to the future.
In fact, approximately ten Phase 1 Pilots have been chosen. And, in preparation for their month-long test drive periods, they have undergone training aimed at sharing a wide range of pertinent knowledge, accompanied by precious opportunities to actually get acquainted with the feel of the i-ROAD itself.
Once actually boarding and driving their i-ROAD units, these Pilots will be in the driver’s seat to personally forge a new realm of sensations and experiences. From the windows of the i-ROAD, they will discover intriguing scenes and qualities about the big city that never caught their attention before. Here, we present a report on the Phase 1 Test Drive Pilot Training, mixing in premonitions of things to come and the surprise and excitement of the test pilots themselves.
The “OPEN ROAD PROJECT,” true to its name, is a scheme aimed at using the opportunity to breeze around the streets of Tokyo in i-ROAD vehicles to open up the possibilities for new mobility, and redefine the proper role and presence of cities in the future. Representing a first for Toyota, this open platform initiative, envisioning a new era in “urban mobility innovation,” is at last ready to be released onto the streets of Tokyo.
On June 20, about ten people gathered at the Toyota Tokyo Design Research Laboratory in the Hachioji district of Tokyo. They included an architect, company executive, certified public accountant, graphic designer, artist and others with diversified and distinctive backgrounds. They were the selected Phase 1 i-ROAD Test Drive Pilots.
Coming together with the same objective, it is easy to see why they immediately warmed up to each other. In addition to that quick ice breaking, however, a Toyota Motor project coordinator went on to describe how the vision of the OPEN ROAD PROJECT appeared to deeply resonate in their reactions and imaginations. He described how they intuitively sensed that this undertaking would hardly be limited to the vehicle’s use in nimbly negotiating the cramped urban driving conditions of Tokyo, the quest for charging methods based on existing infrastructure and other hardware-focused features.
Next, the Pilots moved, one by one, to the test-drive course located on the Laboratory’s grounds, for their initial drives in the i-ROAD. The driving began with circle-like runs, followed by squares consisting of right angle turns, slaloms and figure-8 courses. Next came emergency braking in the height of turns, sharp turns of the steering wheel with the car in full motion, parking and various other experiences. They then fell into line behind a lead car in driving over sloping routes with abrupt ups and downs, S-curves and other features in the vicinity of the Laboratory, and otherwise put the vehicles through their paces out on general roads for the first time ever. So, what impressions did these Pilots take away from these test drives? “The future feeling was intense!” “The riding comfort was too good to be true – much like skiing.” From these impressions of the handling performance, questions were also posed on the technical side, leading to proposals such as “How about placing Bluetooth speakers in the rear seat to enjoy music out on the road,” “I’d like to go touring in the car with my buddies” and other fun and provocative ideas.
Likewise unveiled that day was the “ROAD KITCHEN” brainchild to probe the potential of using 3D printers to create “one-of-a-kind” customized parts, the “Tomehodai” (park as much as you like) service providing fixed-rate parking at i-ROAD parking lots at some 200 locations in Minato and Shibuya wards, dedicated iPhone applications to help search out charging stations and parking lots and other new proposals. This training session format-based attempt to pioneer the “future of mobility from various different angles” prompted a rich range of reactions.
As the day came to an end, one Pilot went as far as to exclaim: “The future I imagined as a child has come true!” The curtain has opened on the i-ROAD experiences of Phase 1 Test Drive Pilots, with the streets of Tokyo serving as the initial staging ground. From here on, we will continue to monitor and report on the progress of this project.
ISSUED : 4 July 2015
TEXT BY Keita Fukasawa (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Tomoyuki Kato