Toyota’s e-Palette concept stores-on-wheels shown at CES 2018

Consumer Electronics Show (CES) sees its fair share of auto tech every year. We had seen the Byton electric car yesterday, which comes from a Tencent-backed Chinese startup. Today there is news from the Toyota stable on the autonomous vehicles front.

There is no clarity if Toyota itself will make these autonomous vehicles. It says it will work with Amazon, Didi Chuxing, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber. The plan is to go live with a demo by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.Toyota has announced a concept called e-Palettes, which are ‘fully-automated, next-generation battery electric vehicles designed to be scalable and customisable for a range of Mobility as a Service business‘. What this essentially means is that this autonomous vehicle concept can be used by businesses which rely on a lot of in-city transportation. Think Amazon same day delivery, Pizza Hut pizza delivery and so on. And based on the size of the shipment, the size of these e-Palettes can change accordingly.

This is still in a conceptual stage, and if we look at the history of concepts at CES, most of them never see the light of day in the immediate future. Even if e-Palettes do translate into reality, there will be a lot of geo-fencing involved to ensure that there aren’t untoward accidents. Think software park campuses or big institutes where the path of the vehicle can be monitored and controlled.

Toyota has taken longer than its rivals to warm up to the idea of autonomous vehicles, but it has committed $1 billion through 2020 to develop advanced automated driving and artificial intelligence technology. It plans to begin testing cars that can drive themselves on highways around 2020.

“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers,” said Toyota President Akio Toyoda in a statement.

Pizza Hut tweeted a photo of its take on the e-Palette concept.

If any of you have seen Black Mirror’s latest season, this autonomous pizza delivery van will look eerily similar to the one seen in Season 4, Episode 3.

In fact, the Black Mirror account tweeted, “We know how this goes”. This was in reference to the fact that in the episode, one of these autonomous pizza delivery vehicles hits a pedestrian while he’s crossing the road. Like all Black Mirror episodes, this particular incident also forces us to reflect on our current day obsessions and where we are going with them. Autonomous vehicles are being tested in California, and there have been instances of accidents.

Black Mirror has had this uncanny knack of preempting a lot of the trends, and e-Palettes is an example of that being proved right. Feel like it’s just a coincidence? Well, how about SAM, the AI-enabled messenger chatbot who has also been named the first ‘virtual politician’. Look up Waldo Moment (Season 2, Episode 3), to know how SAM could play out eventually.

Also, Humans (Season 3, Episode 3) and Metalhead (Season 4, Episode 5) paint a grim picture of how automated war-trained robots could become killing machines if not controlled in time. Looking at the developments of Boston Dynamics, where robots can do backflips and robot dogs could traverse hilly terrains, the Black Mirror episodes have a knack of alerting us as to how our present obsessions could lead to a dystopian future.

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