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Toyota is steadily shifting from being a traditional car company to a mobility corporation. Will it succeed? We find out...

04 Nov 2019

Toyota building mobility solutions isn't a question of brute distance, although goodness knows there is plenty enough of that from all its reliable and comfortable cars. It's more of all the incredible sacrifices, irreplaceable sweat and irresistible hunger that stems from solving future problems that make the Japanese marque one that deserves a formal salute.

Yes, there is no doubt that more carmakers are electrifying their cars, but mobility solutions - something that Toyota is expanding its portfolio on - is more than just about electrification.

The Sora fuel cell bus will be readily available during the Olympic and Paralympic Games to help transport athletes and spectators
It's about dependable mobility that will provide comfort and convenience for people who need it. It's about providing the freedom of movement to people who are at different stages of life.

As Toyota puts it: When you can move freely, anything is possible.

Being the official mobility partner of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the carmaker is planning to demonstrate a range of mobility solutions, which includes some of its electrified technologies, and automated driving services that will help transport athletes and spectators from one point to another.

Fuel cell technology

The Sora uses the Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS) that's also found in the Mirai fuel cell vehicle
For instance, Toyota's self-driving bus will be deployed during the games. The Sora, as its called, uses the Toyota Fuel Cell System (TFCS) developed for the Mirai fuel cell vehicle to ensure that no CO2 or any other environmental pollutants are emitted while in operation.

With the help of camera input, the Sora moves and steers on its own by recognising road markings as guidance lines. During a live demonstration in Tokyo, the fuel cell bus was able to stop accurately and smoothly right next to a kerb. This allows passengers on wheelchairs to board the bus without much fuss.

The bus has a loading capacity of 79 people, with 22 seated, 56 standing and a crew on board.

Accessible People Mover

The demonstration of the Basic model of the APM shows how it can be configured to fit a wheelchair inside
Another demonstration of a mobility solution, albeit smaller in size, that I had the chance to witness is the Accessible People Mover (APM). Specially developed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the APM is a key solution for movement over short distances.

According to Toyota, passengers of this vehicle includes the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities and families with small children. Of course, the APM is also used to ferry athletes, games staff and VIPs around.

Two models of this battery electric vehicle will be available. The basic model will fit five passengers, but it has the ability to configure its seating arrangements to fit a wheelchair, if necessary. Then there's what Toyota calls a Relief Specfication model. This model comes equipped with a stretcher and it'll be used to help carry people who are in need of help in a stable and safe manner to relief centres.

Meet the helpful robots

The FSR can drive up to 20km/h and operate for up to two hours on a single charge
Then there are the Toyota robots that will be assisting mobility - an unsurprising move from the Japanese giant considering the company has been exploring robotics to help support people.

I had the opportunity to see the product demonstration of two robots.

One, dubbed the Field Support Robot (FSR), will be used to support games that involve throwing, such as javelin and hammer throw. The other, called the Human Support Robot (HSR) is created to assist the elderly and the disabled.

The 'obedient' FSR resembles a box-on-wheels that has been programmed to follow the game staff out to the location of the thrown item, where it'll then be loaded with it. After which, it will autonomously drive the loaded item back to where it belongs as it automatically avoids people and obstacles along the way.

The idea is to reduce the time it takes to retrieve these heavy and awkward objects, and for Toyota to showcase its autonomous technologies.

The grip can stretch up to 130mm wide to grab an object
The HSR, on the other hand, has a slightly different proposition. Since its development in 2012, this compact robot can accomplish a number of everyday challenging chores for the elderly or disabled.

For instance, the HSR has the capability of picking up dropped objects, help the elderly to their seats or accomplish a straightforward task like helping to hold a bag for someone.

While these things may sound a tad complicated for a robot, it won't be the case for the HSR. As seen from the demonstration, it can hold up to 1.2kg of weight and has the ability to adjust its height from 600mm to 1,200mm, which pretty much makes it the perfect helping hand.

A smooth transition

With all these in mind, Toyota has slowly but steadily positioned itself as a leader - not just in terms of its everyday vehicles, but also in its strong footing of being a reliable provider of future mobility and its solutions. So can a giant like Toyota succeed in its shift from being a traditional car company to a mobility corporation?

You bet...

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