Woven City: Toyota builds City of the Future

Author: Andreas Techel

May 29, 2023 Safety on the road

The car manufacturer Toyota wants to test the city life of the future with the Woven City project at the foot of Fuji-San, Japan’s sacred mountain. Toyota has just recently laid the foundation for the innovative model city.

Not only in densely populated Japan, but also in other metropolitan regions of the world, is the car often the focus of future mobility concepts, and the trend towards remote work hasn’t just held since the coronavirus pandemic. Like many other car manufacturers, Toyota’s management is also concerned with the transformation from vehicle manufacturer to mobility service provider and is investing billions in Uber or the Asian alternatives called Didi Chuxing and Grab. But the Japanese industrial giant goes one step further and is now testing itself as a mastermind for urban life of the future. The company laid the foundation for its project, which was announced around a year ago, at the end of February 2021.
Open for partnerships
Toyota isn’t only interested in the industry’s usual development goals such as networking, autonomy, electrification, and sharing models: “We are pursuing the future of artificial intelligence, human mobility, robotics, materials science, and sustainable energy,” says Akio Toyoda. Instead of doing this in specialized laboratories around the globe, as is the case today, the company founder’s grandson asks: “Why not build a real city and have real people live in it and safely test all kinds of technology?” Partner companies, scientists, and engineers from all over the world are invited to develop their smart technologies for mobility, housing, and urban infrastructure. The model city, called Woven City, will initially have 2,000 inhabitants, but future expansion isn’t excluded. Initially, 360 people – mainly seniors, families with little children and inventors – are to live in Woven City. Later it will be 2,000, further expansion is not excluded.On the website, woven-city.global, interested parties can apply to participate as residents or as representatives of companies with their own ideas.
Woven network of traffic routes
Star architect Bjarke Ingels worked out the structural concept with Toyota’s management over a period of eight months. With this Woven City, the 45-year-old Dane, who made a name for himself with the construction of the Google headquarters in Mountain View and the 2World Trade Center in New York, is now setting the nucleus of a fully networked city of the future on 71 hectares, planned from scratch. “We started by splitting the typical street into three separate forms of mobility,” he explains. “The first type is for faster transportation and every vehicle is autonomous with zero emissions. The second type will be an urban promenade shared by pedestrians and slower personal mobility, and the final type of street will be a linear park with paths for pedestrians only.” Each of these three parallel traffic routes will be crossed to form a woven network of three by three blocks, which can be driven at a brisk pace or reached by a walk through the park. The strict structural separation according to traffic speed not only improves the quality of life but also safety.
In terms of energy supply, Toyota is relying on its own fuel cell technology, which will be installed in stationary plants. In addition, solar cells will be installed on houses. The buildings will be constructed using a combination of traditional Japanese timber construction and state-of-the-art production robots.
For smart home living concepts, planners picture multi-generation households that are looked after by artificial intelligence and assistance robots. The Toyota Micro Palette, among others, will play an important role in this context. The autonomous micro vehicle can handle all kinds of errands or transport purchases. But shops themselves can also roll into designated spaces with moving container vehicles based on the e-Palette, presented in 2019, and provide variety for shopping. All city districts or blocks in the woven network will combine living and working. Toyota has already been able to recruit the Japanese NTT Group as a partner for the necessary networking technology.
Three questions to DEKRA Accident Researcher Markus Egelhaaf
The traffic concept of Woven City stipulates a strict structural separation according to speed; from your point of view as an accident researcher, will this pay off?
Egelhaaf: On a small scale, the concept exists elsewhere with pedestrian zones, structurally separate cycle paths, and motorways. In the Netherlands, there are regulations that require cycling facilities, depending on and starting at certain speeds. From a traffic safety’s point of view, such a separation offers great advantages, though it’s precisely the individual areas’ intersections that require appropriate design.
Do you think it’s possible to transfer this concept to existing grown cities?
Egelhaaf: Such “studies” can provide a wealth of knowledge and experience from which solutions and improvements for urban mobility can be derived. However, the infrastructure of a model city with 2,000 inhabitants can certainly not be transferred one-to-one to historically grown, larger cities in which non-autonomous vehicles are on the move, inner-city trade isn’t just represented by shops in the pedestrian zone, garbage bins have to be emptied, and people’s own car is parked in the garage.
In many places, lanes for varying speeds are often only differentiated by road markings; is that safe enough in your view?
Egelhaaf: Here you can see the most diverse concepts, from the all-confusing and thus endangering “street art” to really well thought out and good facilities. The limiting factor is the available space, especially in cities with historically narrow streets. This is where traffic concepts are needed that serve all forms of mobility equally well. Current bicycle traffic plans are moving in this direction. And it’s precisely here that insights such as those to be gained in Woven City can provide valuable impulses.