Toyota calls on the public to find new uses for its i-Road electric vehicle

The bizarre, tilting Toyota i-Road electric vehicle concept was first shown to the public at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show, but now Toyota plans to unleash it as part of an experiment in Tokyo.

Toyota has tested the i-Road on public roads before, but now it’s trying to see how the vehicle can integrate itself into the lives of actual consumers. It will provide 100 participants with access to 10 i-Road vehicles, but it’s asking everyone to pitch ideas about how the vehicles could be used.

The company is asking for “creative input and feedback” from businesses and the public in two specific areas.

Thanks to its narrow, three-wheeled design the i-Road is much easier to park than a conventional car. Toyota hopes to take advantage of this by working with parking-lot operators and commercial property owners to identify unused spaces that could be turned into i-Road parking.

While a wide berth won’t be a requirement, the spaces will need to have access to an outlet for charging. The i-Road can plug into a standard 100-volt Japanese electrical outlet, although it’s unclear how long a charge takes that way.

Toyota also plans to support the use of custom parts, even though the cars used in the project won’t really belong to the people doing the customization. The carmaker will let people 3D print new body parts with different colors and designs.

It’s hard to tell whether the i-Road is a tiny car, or an overgrown scooter. It’s powered by a pair of electric motors that provide just 5 horsepower, while onboard battery pack holds enough juice for about 30 miles of range.

The i-Road’s party piece, though, is its ability to lean into corners. All the driver needs to do is turn the steering wheel, and sensors adjusts the vehicle’s angle to compensate. It can even self-stabilize while stationary.

It’s the latest manifestation of Toyota’s interest in vehicles and services that blur the line between car ownership and public transportation. The company has conducted research and tests under the Ha:Mo (“Harmonious Mobility”) banner to investigate ways of integrating cars into a broader transportation network through social media.

Does that mean we’ll all be cruising around in i-Roads someday? Perhaps not, but it will be fun to watch other people do it in this pilot program.


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