CHIBA, JAPAN -- Visitors to this year’s Tokyo Motor Show have a chance to see that latest in cutting-edge automobile IT and electronics in addition to vehicles of the future.
The exhibition, which opened to the public on Saturday, takes place once a year and is the stage onto which many of Japan’s major auto-makers show their latest production cars and also concept cars intended to demonstrate their latest technology.
Perhaps some of the most intriguing technology on show was that built into Toyota Motor Co. Ltd.’s i-Swing concept vehicle. It looks like a high-tech chair on wheels and is the brain child of Kiyotaka Ise, executive chief engineer at Toyota Development Center’s product planning department. It has an artificial intelligence system.
"As you drive around, the i-Swing has a tendency to learn what the user likes and so it becomes easier and easier to drive," said Ise in an interview at the Tokyo Motor Show last week. Part of Ise’s concept for a future vehicle is the ability to communicate with neighboring vehicles through wireless technologies.
"If you are driving and see a girl you like the look of driving another i-Swing, it can communicate this," he said. A demonstration of this function wasn’t shown at the event.
Another of the highlights at the show is Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s three-seater Pivo concept car. The vehicle runs on Lithium-Ion batteries similar to those in a laptop computer and has a distinctive passenger cabin that can rotate completely around. The car also comes packed with new ideas in in-car electronics, said Ken Oizumi of Nissan’s advanced vehicle development group.
For a start there are no mechanical links between the driver and the rest of the car, he said. The steering, braking and shifting are all accomplished electrically "by wire" using a similar technology to that employed on modern "fly-by-wire" airliners.
The Pivo also comes equipped with a number of outward facing cameras that are intended to improve the driver’s visibility. The cameras are mounted on the car’s roof pillars and their images are displayed on flat-panel displays mounted on the inside of the same columns. The effect is that the driver can electronically see-through the columns and thus see things that might otherwise be in a blind spot, said Oizumi.
And while steering still has to be done the old fashioned way with two hands on the wheel some of the other functions, like operation of the car navigation and audio systems, can be done with simple finger movements thanks to Nissan’s "Magic 4" concept human-interface system, a feature designed so a driver can keep both hands firmly on the wheel, for safety. An infrared camera in the dash can detect movement of the driver’s fingers so selection of menu items on the main display is as easy as showing the corresponding number of fingers. Want to select choice number two? Simply hold out two fingers, while keeping your hands on the wheel. Turning up the volume on the radio is as easy as motioning upwards with your hand.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s FCX concept car also features a new interface system for controlling the car’s audio system, air conditioner and cruise control. It projects icons onto the bottom of the car windshield in a fashion similar to that of a heads-up-display. Selecting the various functions and options offered is done by looking at the icons. The car analyzes the driver’s line-of-sight to work out which one is being looked at, according to Honda.
While it may be a few years until some of this technology gets into production cars, it’s reasonably easy, although expensive, to add some high-tech credibility to your current ride through a new entertainment system.
Some of the systems on show, such as those from Alpine Electronics Inc., rival entertainment systems in the home. They bring together digital TV, radio, CD and DVDs and come with ports for connecting Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod digital music player. Things are even more advanced in Alpine’s Mobile Media Vehicle concept which is equipped with 5 LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors and a 16-channel audio system so that every passenger gets a complete entertainment experience.
Fujitsu Ten Ltd. was showing a new system that makes use of a Sharp Corp.’s dual-view LCD. The screen can show two images simultaneously, one appearing to people viewing from the right hand side and one to people viewing from the left. In the company’s in-car entertainment system it means the main screen shows the car navigation map to the driver while displaying a DVD video to the passenger.
The Tokyo Motor Show runs daily at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, near Tokyo, until Nov. 6.
-- Martyn Williams