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Driving Innovation


Whether it be alternative energy sources, interconnected traffic and safety systems, human-assisting robots or new modes of personal transport, Toyota is constantly focused on developing for the future.

Toyota’s Innovation Ambassador Nanogirl Labs and co-founder Dr Michelle Dickinson, nanotechnologist and science educator, embarked on a trip to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the world’s largest global gathering of innovation and technologies with more than 25 hectares of exhibition halls and 170,000 visitors.

“It’s hard to describe how massive this conference is; despite walking over 20,000 steps every day, I still did not manage to see all of it.”

Through the bright sea of giant TV screens and the constant hum of camera-wielding drones, virtual reality (VR), smart home technologies and robotics shone out for me as the top technology trends that will soon be part of our normal lives.

VR isn’t new; however expensive headsets and a lack of engaging content have kept it from becoming part of most people’s lives – it has remained very much the domain of tech enthusiasts.

This year there were a couple of major advances showcased that could help to make VR more mainstream in the future.

The first big change is the increasing mobility of VR headsets. Previously these have needed to be attached by wires to computers or connected to smartphones. Several new headsets out this year have been built with mobile processors inside - meaning that you can instantly pick up and use a VR headset wherever you are, making them much more suitable for classrooms and training workshops. The types of content available for VR are also increasing, with more educational and skills training experiences being built, helping to bring more quality content to this new virtual learning world.

The integration of VR with 5G networks was the second major advance in this field on show. Using 5G connectivity I was able to play seamlessly a graphics-filled VR game with another player in a different location – all in real time, and without any lag. The much higher speed and capacity of the 5G mobile network will also help to advance other new technologies such as self-driving cars, remote health care, smart cities and connected devices, or the internet of things (IoT).

Talking about IoT – smart homes were the next major trend I noticed at CES.

Using artificial intelligence powered voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, household objects including showers, kettles, lights and window blinds were all able to be controlled remotely by voice. There were lots of smart appliances, including smart fridges that notify you when you are low on milk, and smart washing machines that give you the perfect and most economical wash every time. My favourite, however, was a voice-activated smart toilet that provided mood lighting, a heated seat, a foot warmer and an advanced bidet and air dryer function.

IoT is incredibly powerful, but it can’t solve everything - the smart ovens that I saw, for instance, can talk to your fridge and offer advice with recipes, but they still won’t fully clean themselves! This is where my third trend comes in: the emergence of personal robotics.

There were hundreds of different robotic solutions available, which could do everything you could imagine - vacuum your home, bring you a beer from the fridge, play table tennis with you, read stories to your children and provides companionship and support for your elderly relatives. Although many were still a bit clunky looking, the advances in facial and object recognition that allow robots to identify things around them were both amazing and a bit creepy at the same time. There was a clear push towards consumers owning multiple robots around the house to help carry out daily tasks. I even saw a robot dog available for people who can’t own the real thing.

In a show the size of CES, there are of course many more inventions and innovations that have the potential to really affect our lives – lots of these didn’t come from the big manufacturers, but instead were hidden in the crowded tech start-up hall of the conference. The level of interconnectivity and intelligence has the potential to make a huge difference to the way we go about our daily lives, and I’m excited to see where these tech trends will take us in 2018.

For more than 85 years, Toyota’s innovations have continued to make people’s lives easier. But as far as we’ve come, there’s still so much we can do. With our eyes to the future, we’re setting our sights on an even greater mission: helping to give all of humankind the freedom to move.

Over the next few months Dr Michelle Dickinson, co-founder of Toyota’s Innovation Ambassador Nanogirl Labs, will be taking us on a journey through all of Toyota’s exciting mobility innovations, and bringing to life Toyota’s vision for the future of mobility, from robots to artificially intelligent vehicles and how we’ll be moving in the future.

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