The Tokyo Motor Show is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the latest concept cars and drivable prototypes. The theme for this year's show is "Open Future" with an emphasis on new mobility vehicles, autonomous driving and - hurrah! - flying cars. Here are five concepts that have us most excited.
The Tokyo Motor Show is a biennial auto show hosted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA). Starting all the way back in 1954, it has become one of the premiere auto shows for futurists, with concept cars typically outnumbering production models. (Although their are plenty of the latter on display too.)
In 2019, JAMA has taken the crystal gazing to a new level - the Aomi Exhibition Hall has been transformed into a futuristic cityscape where attendees will interact with actual physical prototypes designed by the wold's leading car manufacturers.
The Tokyo Motor Show doesn't kick off until October 24, but here are a few previously announced concepts we're excited to learn more about at the show.
Lunar exploration vehicle
One of the coolest aspects of the Tokyo Motor Show is getting to see vehicles that will never appear in a dealership's showroom. Chief among these is the Manned Pressurised Rover, a new prototype developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in partnership with Toyota. Powered by fuel cell technology, it will be used to explore the moon's polar regions with a tentative launch date of 2029.
Over the course of the three-year joint research period, JAXA and Toyota will manufacture, test, and evaluate a range of prototypes, the first of which can be experienced at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show.
NEC flying car
Tokyo Motor Show attendees will be able to check out NEC's "near-future type flying vehicle" - a prototype flying car developed and built at the company's Akibo Plant. NEC reckons its new mobility solution will seamlessly connect the ground to the sky.
As you can see from the above photo, the design is strikingly similar to a remote-controlled drone - it even has an autonomous flight mode.
The vehicle, which has successfully completed a series of "levitation tests", measures 3.9 metres in length, 3.7 metres in width and 1.3 metres in height. It's also remarkably light for its size, weighing in at around 150kg.
The prototype is part of a government-endorsed initiative to ease the burden on road traffic in Japan. NEC - which is not a car company - will be licencing the technology to third parties including Japanese drone manufacturer Cartivator.
You can tell this is a concept car just by looking it. The LQ is the latest iteration of Toyota's self-driving, electric-powered hatchback of the future. (It was formerly dubbed the 'Concept-I'.)
The car has it own artificial intelligence assistant named Yui which will reportedly be able to sense the driver's emotional state and alertness. (Hopefully it will utter an understated "...Dude." when you're road raging.)
According to Toyota, Yui will have a wide range of "human-machine interactions" at its disposal, including in-seat functions designed to increase alertness or reduce stress, in-vehicle illumination, air conditioning and a fragrance dispenser(!) You can also put it in charge of your music playlist and chat to it about a range of topics. In other words, it's basically K.I.T.T. from Nigtrider.
In addition to a digital pal, the LQ will come with an autonomous driving system equivalent to SAE Level 4. This means it can practically drive itself.
Autonomous driving is set to play a huge role at this year's Tokyo Motor Show. One of the more intriguing concepts is Panasonic's SPACe_L which looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Previously unveiled at CES 2019, the vehicle contains a highly customisable interior that can shift between different 'atmospheres' ranging from “Living Room” to “Business”.
As we have noted in the past, the self-driving cars of the future are expected to look nothing like the cars of today. For example, it will be possible to install seats that swivel around so that the passengers are all facing each other because nobody is driving. You could also have video conferencing equipment built into the dash and touch screens or LED panels instead of windows.
Panasonic reckons we'll be seeing cars like this around 2030. At the rate this technology is developing, we think that's a pretty conservative estimate.
The current fleet of autonomous car prototypes aren't terribly far removed from their manual counterparts — visually, the only significant difference is the mechanical brain stuffed inside their boots. All this is set to change in the years ahead, however. As Nvidia's senior director of automotive research Danny Shapiro explains, everything from the materials used to the way cars are upgraded will be completely different. In short, your car will behave like a very expensive smart phone.
Tiny electric cars!
In addition to concept cars of the future, the Tokyo Motor Show will also be showing off plenty of models that are almost ready for prime time. This includes a bevy of new electric vehicles.
Among the new battery-powered vehicles set to debut at this year's show is the Toyota Ultra-Compact BEV. As we previously reported, this is a ridiculously cute two-seater designed for regular, short-distance trips. It has a maximum speed of 60 km/h and can be driven for approximately 100 km on a single charge. Think of it as a mobility device for the elderly, but on steroids.
Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Suzuki and Suburu will also be showing off hybrid- and battery-powered vehicles this year. In fact, most of the models at the show are powered by some form of electrification. It's where the future of the auto industry is unquestionably heading. (Accept it, petrol heads.)
Gizmodo attended the Tokyo Motor Show as a guest of Toyota.