CES 2018: Toyota unveils autonomous e-commerce mobility platform e-Palette

Toyota has unveiled its vision for autonomous business applications, with its reconfigurable e-Palette vehicles to provide space for on-demand offices, ride sharing, meal deliveries, stores, and medical clinics.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda has announced e-Palette, the auto company's on-demand autonomous vehicle solution for business applications, which it said will essentially form "on-demand cities".

"E-Palette is one example of Toyota's vision for autonomous business applications," Toyoda said at CES 2018.

"E-Palette will be fully electric, and will be powered by Toyota's autonomous technology. Or, if they prefer, partner companies can use their own automotive driving system instead.

"In either case, e-Palette will include Toyota's Guardian technologies, which will act as a safety net. It's an open, flexible platform that can be easily adapted to support a range of uses, including ride sharing, delivering, and retail."

Announced on Monday morning, the e-Palette could enable on-demand use cases for retail experiences, personal shops, markets, showrooms, and office sharing while transiting to and from the workplace. Ride sharing transport could also share the space with on-demand meal deliveries.

Businesses and communities could additionally combine several e-Palettes in one place to form on-demand malls, medical clinics, entertainment, and festivals. According to Toyota's president, the e-Palette vehicles can be reconfigured for different uses within a single day, with a Toyota distribution centre to house the vehicles.

Toyoda said the company has created an alliance of business partners called the e-Palette Alliance to support e-commerce mobility, turning its mobility services platform into a common platform.

Initial members of the alliance include Amazon, DiDi, Uber, Pizza Hut, and Mazda.

See also: CES 2018 special coverage (CNET)

Toyoda said the technology would be debuted at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games, along with "many other mobility technologies we have in the pipelines".

"It is my goal to transition Toyota from an automotive company to a mobility company," he said, speaking during Toyota's pre-CES session on Monday morning.

"We are moving from software to the platform ... it's the platform that will be the backbone for mobility as a service, for autonomy, for car sharing, for any number of services that we want to make possible."

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Toyota's e-Palette autonomous e-commerce mobility vehicle

(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Toyota is aiming to have more than 10 battery electric vehicles by 2020; by 2025, every model in the Toyota line will be either electric or have electrified options, he added.

Toyota is further working on extending its battery technology from lithium-ion to an all-solid-state battery.

The auto company is planning to anticipate consumer needs through predictive artificial intelligence (AI) in its Toyota Connected mobility platform to create a "personal assistant on wheels", with cars to serve as an extension of phones and PCs.

"Mobility on demand, mobility as a service will be powered by autonomy, which will be supported by vehicle electrification," he explained.

With less than 1 percent all vehicles sold in the US battery electric, Toyoda said the auto company is also working with the government to create the charging stations and necessary infrastructure to support electric vehicles.

Japanese semiconductor maker Renesas announced in October that Toyota had selected two of its chips to power the autonomous features in the self-driving cars it plans to launch in 2020.

The chips will enable Toyota's Highway Teammate feature combining peripheral recognition, driving judgments, and body control capabilities, Renesas said.

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