TOKYO — Toyota, as a top sponsor of next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo, is beginning to showcase its burgeoning interests in new-age mobility for the event.
Last week, Toyota previewed the first wave of gadgetry that will show what it has in mind, but with the acknowledgment that there is still some work to be done.
Toyota has plowed billions of dollars into robotics and artificial intelligence for cars in recent years. But with just a year to go to the opening ceremony, engineers concede they must still fine tune some of their Olympics technology and aren't sure how some of it will even be used.
Last week's early glimpse here did not reveal any true breakout technologies for future mobility concepts that have been discussed. There were no autonomous pods, and definitely no flying vehicles for lighting the Olympic flame, as irresistibly imagined by local Japanese media.
Japan's biggest and richest carmaker has spent the past three years studying ground vehicles at the past two Olympics so it could improve transportation at the 2020 Tokyo games.
Its solution amounts to building a better golf cart. Called the Accessible People Mover, or APM, the shuttle shown last week is a van-sized, open-air, three-row full-electric people mover that can seat five passengers and one driver. Toyota plans to deploy 200 of them to shuttle staff, athletes and special-needs visitors at the Olympics and Paralympics.
Toyota is taking a special interest in the games because it is a top sponsor and the official "mobility partner" of the Olympics and Paralympics Games. It has worked for years on a slew of so-called support robots in hopes of one day parlaying them into an actual business.
But Toyota still seems to be keeping its best technologies under wraps.
Toyota said last year, for instance, that some of its funkiest concept vehicles will come to life as real, road-running models during the games. They would include an operating version of the Concept-i, an egg-shaped electric vehicle that senses a person's emotions using artificial intelligence. Also on tap: a working e-Palette, a boxcar-like self-driving urban people mover.
To be sure, the APM is just the first of several vehicles expected to debut before the games convene. It is arguably also more practical than the other flights of fancy some envision.
The APM is positioned as a "last-mile" vehicle that still needs a human driver to navigate the hustle and bustle of crowded stadiums and other Olympic venues.
That leaves open the possibility of other, more automated, systems to convey people longer distances, over set routes.
The APM has a range of about 62 miles and a top speed of 12 mph.
The APM was created with extensive feedback from user groups and Olympic organizers, said Akihiro Yanaka, group manager of Toyota's ZEV Factory, a new unit for developing zero-emissions vehicles.
Toyota engineers studied the plethora of golf cart-like vehicles used at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and last year's winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
A couple of tweaks allow the APM to be easily modified into an all-in-one runabout, a medical vehicle or a shuttle for the handicapped. Separate vehicles are not needed. The APM seats more people than a golf cart. And it has a flat floor and seats designed for easy entry and exit.
"We don't want to transport people around like luggage," Yanaka said. "We want them to be safe, comfortable and have peace of mind."