Toyota unveils e-Palette self-driving concept for rides, deliveries

Toyota unveils e-Palette self-driving concept for rides, deliveries

Unusually for an autonomous vehicle, Toyota isn't suggesting that its self-driving platform is necessarily the best choice compared to anything else out there.

The vehicle will come in three sizes and is created to be used for a variety of purposes, including freight and package delivery, ride-sharing, and mobile offices and storefronts.

The e-Palette uses an open interface that allows customers to install their preferred automated driving system and vehicle management technology. So, a particular vehicle could serve as public transit during the day and be quickly converted for shipping packages overnight.

Think of e-Palette as a "multi-purpose moving space", said Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota Motor Corp. and grandson of its founder. Each vehicle will be purpose-built depending on its use.

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The e-Palette is still only an idea.

Toyota is looking to start road-testing the vehicles in the the early 2020s, looking past simply building them to creating new associated businesses, including insurance, payment settlement and maintenance. It's definitely an idealized projection of what's to come, and things would e much more messy in practice, but it's definitely something worth pursuing - and a smart strategy for an automaker to adopt in terms of figuring out what comes next, once autonomy and electric vehicle investments change the face of transportation. "Today", said Toyota CEO Toyoda, "you have to travel to the store". Hail the roaming pizza oven, complete with (prisoner?) chef.

To aid in this new vision of mobile services, Toyota announced several partners including Pizza Hut, Amazon, Uber, Didi and Mazda to build out its mobility services ecosystem. Proponents contend the technology will reduce congestion and improve highway safety, among other things. In fact, the e-Palettes have built-in APIs that ingest sensor data and receive over-the-air updates like smartphones. Before this, the brand plans to supply the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games with versions of the e-Palette.

Toyota intends to make the vehicle available in three sizes. It's the electric skateboard concept that we've seen from multiple automakers. "With Toyota, we are excited to be partnering with an undisputed leader in human mobility with a reputation for innovation, reliability and efficiency, as we define the pizza delivery experience of the future".