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, believe automated 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 to make sure future generations experience the joy of driving.
Toyota's new concept car has a mind of its own. Just unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the gloss white, four seat, bluntly ovoid, fractally embellished, occasionally autonomous pod, known as the Concept-i, comes equipped with an artificially intelligent user experience interface known as Yui that will apparently get to know you, your emotions, and your preferences, and react accordingly. Ian Cartabiano, the veteran studio chief for the brand's CALTY advanced design atelier in southern California, said that they didn't want to make a cold, technical, dry, soulless machine. The future is ephemeral and unpredictable, and our prognostications about it are often far more interesting, and far less insidious, than the ensuing reality. We've always thought that the best cars have a kind of mechanized spirit, so we're intrigued by this incipient human/machine meld. If also terrified of it.
Using the Twelve Principles of Animation — a series of guidelines developed by Disney artists in the Thirties to help make inanimate objects appear alive — they populated Yui with manners and motions that will help it convey feelings and emotion— pulsing, stretching, shrinking, overlapping — allowing Yui to communicate with its human subjects in a variety of ways. Visual cues, eye command, voice command, and touch command are also integrated, allowing for multivalent forms of interaction. And interfaces appear and disappear, or morph and change, situationally. For example, the headlamps are beneath the paint, so when the car is off and you're not present, they're invisible, but as you approach they open up like eyes. They can even wink at you!