Toyota presented its ambitions to enter the mobility and delivery markets, by introducing e-Palette at CES 2018. The revolutionary new vehicle, e-Palette, is a “fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of Mobility as a Service businesses”. The vehicle is a completely new model resembling transparent-self-driving boxes, suitable for delivery of packages, food and people.

Shipping containers on wheels

Toyota has identified a niche in the emerging sustainable mobility and sharing economy markets, providing a perfect product fit for its new model. By making a major step towards the company’s evolution to sustainable mobility, Toyota will expand “beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values, including services for customers”.

The automobile industry is clearly amid its most dramatic period of change, as technologies such as electrification and connected and automated driving are making significant progress.

In essence, the cargo boxes will look like shipping containers on wheels, whose size can be modified depending on the specific users’ requirements.

Multiple uses for customised personal and business applications

The unique vehicle will have an open control interface, with purpose-built interior suitable for individual and business needs. A set of software tools will allow companies to install their own automated driving system and vehicle management technology, enabling customisation of shared business applications. For example, e-Palette could be used for ride-sharing and carpooling, as well as mobile facilities such as offices, retail space, medical clinics, hotel rooms and similar.

Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president already visualised a new use for the e-Palette, catering to technologists, having in mind potential for delivery and transport. Just think how good e-Palette would be at Burning man

Autonomous infrastructure could derail development

Even though the e-Palette is a novel and interesting idea, it has serious pitfalls. One of the biggest disadvantages of the self-driving container is the limited space for autonomous vehicle areas in cities. Inability to commute within cities would prevent the vehicle from reaching its full potential, becoming useful only in communities and campuses.

However, considering the early stage of the autonomous vehicles market, and assuming mass market adoption with appropriate public infrastructure, Toyota fans can remain optimistic about  the future development of the e-Palette. In addition, Toyota itself is already running autonomous driving tests of the Lexus LS 600 hL in Silicon Valley. Besides having improved the look of its first autonomous car, the new Lexus now contains two steering wheels, a radar and seamlessly integrated LIDAR sensors and camera arrays.

CES 2018 also saw the largest number of new electric and autonomous vehicles, expected to hit the roads in the coming years, while incumbents like Tesla are accelerating the transition to Level 5 autonomous driving in 2018. Thus, the e-Palette could soon become reality in cities with suitable infrastructure and connectivity.

Toyota is partnering with numerous companies to bring the e-Palette to life. Its current partnerships include companies like Amazon, Didi Chuxing, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber. If all plans and development run smoothly, the vehicle would be released at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, after which it will be available in various regions worldwide.

Snezana Sokolovska

Snezana has extensive international background and business media experience. She is covering e-mobility, autonomous vehicles and smart technology at Electric Think.

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