Toyotas Concept-i Envisions an Autonomous Future Thats Actually Fun

As the world races toward a driverless future of robo-cars, you’ll hear more and more complaints from gearheads who insist that they love driving.

What these folks mean, of course, is they love driving, not commuting. There is a difference. They have a few key allies who envision a future where you put the pedal to the metal on the open road, but the robot handles the slog to work. Lamborghini (and its parent,Audi), for example, believeautomated tech will help you push your limits and experience more of what a car can do.

You’d expect that from a company like Lamborghini. You would not expect it from a company like Toyota, which is known for the most utilitarian and appliance-like vehicle ever, the Prius. But the company wants tomake sure future generations experience the joy of driving.

Our vision for the future is that driving is still fun, says Ian Cartabiano, studio chief designer at Toyotas Calty design facility in Southern California.

To that end, the company just unveiled the Concept-i, its vision ofmotoring in 2030, here at CES 2017. Rather than design the body first, as often happens with outlandish concepts,Cartabiano andhis team started from the cockpit, with a clear emphasis on the driver and the AI that will help out. Fun in Toyotas case doesnt necessarily mean pushing a car to oversteer through a switchback, but rather on enjoying the car itself.

In a break with some autonomous cars, Toyota places a steering wheel—which looks a bit like a game controller—front and center. This being 2030, Toyotais fully confident it will have autonomous tech fully sorted, so the Concept-i offers chauffeur mode for when youcant be bothered. That said, this is no driverless pod in which you’re merely along for the ride.The AI monitors the driver’s attention, and can lend a hand if they seem to get distracted.

That AI, by the way, is called Yui, and it “lives” in the center of the dashboard, where you interact with a simple 2-D animated avatar. The interface alsoflies around the car, appearing on various screens. The avatar’s outer ring represents its body, while the inner circle is its soul. Or something. Cartabiano concedes it isa bit out there,” but this is a concept car and no one really expects everything about them to make sense. And it’s a nice break from the ubiquitous glass touchscreens everyone else sees you using in the near future. Were trying to do the opposite of whats been seen everywhere else lately,” Carabiano says.

The rest of the car is more typical futuristic fare—a sleek white wedge with Lambo-like scissor doors and loads of lighting accents to communicate with everyone around you. (This is a thing in concepts lately.) Its sporty, with a streak of black glass and a silhouette anyone who’s ever seen a Prius will recognize. Cartabiano calls the design style “kinetic warmth.”

Cartabiano is the same designer behind the stunning Lexus LF-LC concept coupethat became theLC500, so he has a track record of making his vision become reality. The Concept-i, with its crazy wheel covers, scissor doors, and headlines that are almost certainly not DOT-legal, will take a bit more work to deliver, but if Toyota maintains a focus on the driver when everyone else is ceding to silicon, it should find a lot of happy buyers.

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