This Toyota car is something of a dog

TOKYO - Sony Corp., creator of the hot-selling Aibo robotic dog, worked with Toyota Motor Corp. for more than a year developing the Pod. The result undoubtedly will be the most popular car of the Tokyo show.

Toyota Pod

The Pod's face resembles that of the Aibo. It expresses six different emotions: anger, happiness, sleepiness, sadness, disgust and surprise. It also winks.

The effects are achieved through lighting above the headlamp eyes. The lights provide eyebrows that can slant up or down while the eyes shade partly, so as to appear to be narrowing to angry slits or tilting in sorrow. The car can even cry, with blue lights blinking down from the headlamps to create the impression of teardrops.

A fat antenna sticks out of the rear, and wags up and down like a dog's tail.

The Pod is controlled by a sort of joystick in lieu of the normal steering wheel and pedals. The driver inserts a hand into an opening atop the joystick and pushes forward to stop (replicating the panic reaction of throwing your hands out to catch yourself before you bump into something), back to go, and left or right to turn.

But this is more than a simple joystick. Sensors measure the driver's hand's temperature and moisture. A sweaty palm indicates nervousness, and the car's computers can translate that into an indication that it is time to slow down.

In place of a key, each driver has a special minipod, which acts as a sort of memory stick containing the driver's preferences.

About the size of a personal data assistant, it has an organic shape and is made of colored translucent plastic with flashing dots of light inside. Slipped into its cradle, it not only adjusts the seat and the radio choices but also can adjust the car's ride and handling to the driver's style.

The doors slide away from the center to create a wide opening as the car lowers itself for an easy step in. In theory, it can drive forward, too, but don't expect to see it on any road in your lifetime.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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