Woven City: Toyota’s hydrogen-powered future smart city
Last year, Toyota revealed its plans to build a prototype "city" of the future on a 175-acre site at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The "Woven City" will be a fully connected ecosystem powered by hydrogen fuel cells and optimized for autonomous vehicles. Toyota and ENEOS recently set a partnership with the hope of achieving a carbon-neutral society by 2050.
As you can see in the video below, this future smart city aims at testing and developing technologies for driverless cars, mobility, robotics, smart homes, and sensor-based artificial intelligence in a real-life environment.
The construction of Woven City is scheduled to be completed by 2024. This city will be a living laboratory where all sorts of tests will be performed to enable and improve fully autonomous transports, smart homes, and autonomous robots. For instance, a robot will be designed to automatically takes out residents’ trash and restock their refrigerators.
An interesting article from Bloomberg shows that nowadays, self-driving vehicles are far from being optimal and that even the most advanced autonomous features - like high automation via radar sensors and video cameras - are limited and require driver supervision (see Futuria's article on Waymo's driverless taxi service). Many experts believe that the missing link for autonomous cars to make more progress is smart cities. Cities need to be more connected such that consequent amounts of data can be collected and used to help cars to effectively self drive. Hiroki Kuriyama, senior vice president of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, said that this futuristic city will use sensors and cameras dispersed throughout roads, traffic lights and buildings - and perhaps even data from mobile phones - to collect massive information on everything from pedestrian traffic to precipitation. These massive data streams will then be used to create a digital mirror image of the living city. According to Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, this would help developing a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure and fully automated transports.
(Source: Toyota Motor Corp)
In May 2021, Toyota has partnered with Japanese company ENEOS to help develop the hydrogen fuel cell system that will power its futuristic smart city, set to be two hours by car from Tokyo. Woven Planet group is the subsidiary of Toyota that leads the Woven City project.
In May 2021, Woven Planet also stated in a news release that ENEOS and Toyota intend to conduct testing and demonstration in areas related to a hydrogen-based supply chain, from production, delivery to usage of hydrogen, in and around Woven City. This new partnership means that Toyota is backing hydrogen over electric.
Hydrogen is definitely an essential future clean energy to bridge the gap between mass-consumption cities and low-carbon footprint for the environment. Indeed, hydrogen fuel cells (cells producing electricity by converting chemical energy into electrical energy) only emit water vapour as a by-product. Thus, there are no carbon dioxide emissions or other pollutants released into the atmosphere with hydrogen. Nonetheless, many engineers say that governments need to agree to produce "green zero-carbon hydrogen" by using clean energy when deriving hydrogen. Otherwise, hydrogen won't truly be useful in reducing carbon emissions and dealing with climate change. As it was explained in another Futuria article, what remains to be done in using this energy is to have larger capacities to produce hydrogen from renewable sources of energy and to have large volumes to be able to get to a reasonable price of energy. Therefore, the collaboration of ENEOS and Toyota also appears as an important step towards future carbon neutral societies (one of their goals is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050).
(Source: Toyota Motor Corp)
Overall, this project seems promising and could be life-changing in the use of hydrogen and in future technology advances like AI, autonomous devices, robotics and smart homes. However, it is always challenging to build a city from scratch and many new smart cities projects have already failed in other parts of the world. Moreover, generating a massive data stream from phones, cameras, traffic lights and building might be controversial. Not everyone would ethically agree that their data is used and collected to create a digital "twin" of the city. The point that differentiates that project is the pragmatic idea to make it a real-size test bench to integrate many new technologies, rather than an "ideal" city.
To find out more, please check the Toyota's Woven City website, with more videos to explain the details of the project: https://www.woven-city.global/
You can also read the recent Woven Planet news release about the partnership between ENEOS and Toyota: https://www.woven-planet.global/news-release/20210510
And for more about smart cities and climate change, please check out this Futuria article: https://www.futuria.io/post/how-cities-can-adapt-to-climate-change