Toyota Fuel Cell City… Heaven or Hell?

Toyota wants to build a fuel-cell city as it plans a hydrogen energy future in the shadow of the famous Mount Fuji in Japan.

Yet, for some, the town, dubbed the Woven City unveiled at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), envisages major constraints on personal liberties and privacy including autonomous-only roads and homes bristling with sensors to assess personal health and well-being. Nonetheless, Toyota says it will promote a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells as a “living laboratory”. The city will become home to an initial 2,000 full-time residents and researchers who will be able to test and develop advanced technologies including autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and artificial intelligence in a real-world environment.

The automaker will invite other commercial and academic partners to collaborate in the project and hopes to persuade interested scientists and researchers from around the world to come work on their own projects in the city. Toyota commissioned Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels and his team who have designed several high-profile projects including the World Trade Center in New York, Lego House in Denmark and Google’s Mountain View and London headquarters.

Toyota’s plan hopes to see three a smart city that allows for several street use cases including faster vehicles only, a mix of lower speed, personal mobility and pedestrians with park-like promenade areas for pedestrians only. The city is planned to be fully sustainable, with buildings made mostly of wood to reduce the carbon footprint, using traditional Japanese wood joinery, combined with robotic production methods. The rooftops will be covered in photo-voltaic panels to generate solar power in addition to power generated by hydrogen fuel cells. Toyota plans to weave in the outdoors throughout the city, with native vegetation and hydroponics, hence the city’s name.

Homes will be equipped with human support technologies, such as in-home robotics to assist with daily living. In a personal monitoring heaven-or-hell, the homes will also use sensors employing AI to check occupants’ health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life or otherwise depending on your viewpoint.

Other personal freedoms that will have to be compromised see only fully-autonomous, zero-emission vehicles allowed on the main thoroughfares. In and throughout Woven City, autonomous Toyota e-Palettes will be used for transportation and deliveries, as well as for changeable mobile retail.

Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, said: “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. 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 … maximizing its potential.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *