Toyota's baffling e-Racer debuts in Tokyo – with a flying broomstick
It's been a while since we saw a concept car from the realms of pure silliness, so bask while you can in the glory of this nutty creation from Toyota, complete with digitally active tires and the ability to turn your drive into an AR video game.
The e-Racer is part of Toyota's "mobility theme park" at the Tokyo Motor Show, which speaks mainly to a depressingly autonomous future in which millions of multi-purposed autonomous pod thingies wend their way around cities delivering people, goods, mobile phone charging points and even medical services in much the same way.
The e-Racer, on the other hand, is for those among us who still want to take the wheel and drive ourselves. Well, to a point, anyway. Toyota President Akio Toyoda introduced the e-Racer with a spiel about horses, saying not only that he feels "the joy of riding a horse can hold its own or outdo what cars have to offer," but that horses apply their own intelligence to the terrain in conjunction with a rider's input: "If there is an obstacle, a horse can avoid it. If there is a hole in the ground, a horse can make its own judgement and jump over it."
In Toyoda's mind, the future of mobility will be split between carriage-like appliances like the mobility pods, and horse-like intelligent sports cars like the e-Racer.
Naturally, this thing will be electrically driven. And that's about all the detail we're given; the rest must be divined from watching a video Toyota has produced for the e-Racer. Strap in.
The video shows a young lady beeping on her bathroom mirror as she brushes her teeth, opening up menus that let her edit the tires on her car, dragging sliders for hard/soft compound, tread depth and wheel size. She then flicks through a menu of dozens of seat options, which seem mainly distinguished by color (an attribute that, it should be noted, isn't visible outside the e-Racer).
Next, she chooses from an array of driving suit options. The system scans her body for fit, then sprays a suit onto a mannequin ready for her to pop on, which she does, replete with some disturbing squelchy leathery sound effects.
From here, she jumps in the car and hits "ignition," and is ejected down a highly futuristic driveway onto what looks like a regular beautiful country road, with minimal driving information displayed in some sort of augmented reality heads-up glasses.
But it seems she's not content to sit and enjoy the scenery, so she starts hitting a series of buttons that overlay reality with other scenarios. The road is overlaid with a holographic racetrack, complete with other cars, presumably encouraging the driver to race against said other ghost cars. What could possibly go wrong there?
But Toyota's not done yet. A fish icon lights up, and the entire world is transformed into an undersea tunnel. Dolphins frolic alongside the car as it drives along, as well as a few whales – a Japanese favorite there. The driver is completely visually disconnected from the real world, and is merely steering to stay within a virtual tunnel at this point, although she's still holding the steering wheel and feeling like she's doing something. When the AR mode is switched off, reality reveals her to be in the middle of a megacity, pootling along beside some autonomous pods on a raised highway.
I really don't think there's much to be learned about the future from the e-Racer. It's a sci-fi fantasy with little grounding in reality, and if you need further confirmation of this fact, consider this: Toyoda used the same press conference to announce an e-Broom flying broomstick. I wish I was kidding.
Fear not, Toyoda says "if you visit the Toyota booth you can hop on and give it a try, but it's not yet ready to fly." Righty-o then, we'll stick with our trusty Nimbus 2000. Check out the e-Racer video below.