It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s an electric, driverless concept vehicle!

Discussion
Source: Toyota
Jan 23, 2018
Tom Ryan

At 2018 CES, Toyota Motor Corp introduced the e-Palette, an electric, driverless, multi-purpose vehicle “designed to meet the demands of future multi-mode transportation and business applications.”

A statement from Toyota said the vehicle could be used for “parcel delivery, ride sharing, or on-the-road e-commerce.” A short video showed the vehicles transporting passengers and goods in a variety of ways, including also handling warehouse-to-store delivery. It also transformed at one point into a mobile hotel room.

“The concept reflects one of Toyota’s visions for Automated Mobility as a Service (Autono-MaaS) applications,” Toyota said in a statement. “It is a fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) businesses.”

Toyota envisions that the vehicles will be come in three sizes, ranging from the length of a small bus to a mailbox-sized one able to ride on sidewalks to support customer package or food delivery.

Launch partners include Amazon, China’s ride-hailing giant DiDi, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, which will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities. An open interface and a set of software tools allow partner companies to replace Toyota’s automated driving system and vehicle management technology with their own, if desired.

Bloomberg noted that other major auto makers have also explored driverless pizza delivery, parcel delivery and ride sharing, although not in one vehicle.

Feasibility testing of the e-Palette Concept will be conducted in the early 2020s in various regions, including the U.S., with a goal of providing mobility solutions for the Olympics in Tokyo.

Wrote Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch, “It’s definitely an idealized projection of what’s to come, and things would be much more messy in practice, but it’s definitely something worth pursuing — and a smart strategy for an automaker to adopt in terms of figuring out what comes next, once autonomy and electric vehicle investments change the face of transportation.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What potential retail applications do you see for vehicles like Toyota’s e-Palette concept? Will multi-purpose vehicles like e-Palette represent the future of travel and distribution?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The e-Palette is a great example of bold thinking, enabling retailers to truly step out the box and redefine what it means to fulfill customer needs."
"Self-driving vehicles will help extend retailers’ presence, but cost could become a concern."
"The applications for MaaS are endless. Consumers want convenience and anything that can make happen is worth thinking about."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s an electric, driverless concept vehicle!"


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Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

As technology improves for autonomous vehicles it is inevitable that retail and CPG brands will take advantage of not just delivery of goods, but also of creating mobile retailing vehicles for use throughout urban areas.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Without adding to congestion on the roads, the only application worth trying is ride sharing. When these vehicles start taking sidewalk space away from pedestrians, we will all be in trouble.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
1 year 7 months ago

One result of services like Uber and Lyft has been an increase in traffic in congested areas. The people I know studying the opportunity for autonomous vehicles find that it gets even worse with these. And then to suggest autonomous robots on the sidewalks? Is anyone is learning from the problems with drones in the skies?

I’d suggest we all get quite familiar with Weiner’s Laws derived from studies of aircraft automation. Such as: “Whenever you solve a problem you usually create one. You can only hope that the one you created is less critical than the one you eliminated.”

Charles Dimov
Guest

Not only is this an interesting step forward in standard logistics (DC to retail store), but also will increase the push of more inventory into the field (stores, pop-up stores, small-format locations, kiosks … ). It makes store-to-store transfers easier. It also pushes the idea of mobile-physical commerce (not just ordering from your cell phone, but seeing the inventory in a driverless vehicle). A brave new world of retail!

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

First, I like how the human avatars in the video pay no attention to the autonomous vehicles as if they always were a part of the fabric of society.

This is an obvious evolution of AI and transportation. If there are going to be autonomous passenger vehicles, there will be drone delivery vehicles and trucks. We know that the trucks have already had some highway testing and Starship Technologies already has drone food delivery carts (wagons?) deliver food in D.C. and is trying to expand elsewhere.

It’s all good for business and good for consumer convenience (if they have superior safety), but bad for people who are career drivers.

In warehouses, this is a very old concept. As early as the 1980’s one of the largest retail warehouses in the country used AGV’s (Automated Guided Vehicles) to move product internally. That company then on the leading edge of tech… Sears.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

The dynamic, customizable use cases for the e-Palette indicate Toyota is approaching autonomous vehicles in a bigger, more aspirational manner than any other auto maker. Potential retail applications for the e-Palette will only be limited by the imagination of the creative brands who adopt this as a means of customer engagement and brand experience. The e-Palette is a great example of bold thinking, enabling retailers to truly step out of the box and redefine what it means to fulfill customer needs.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

This is the future – and not too far off. We’re talking just two years from now! It will streamline distribution and delivery. It will be more efficient, moving merchandise between stores, from the warehouse to stores and direct to consumer. The technology that takes the merchandise from the vehicle to the customer’s home or office will make this an even bigger game changer.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I think the question of whether there will be self-driving vehicles is no longer an “if” but a “when.” However, before we get there, many issues will have to be addressed for safety and the passenger’s protection. It’s okay to have a self-driving vehicle which can avoid other cars, but the system will have to be so sophisticated that it will not only have to address the expected, it must be prepared to handle the unexpected that we as drivers deal with every day. For example, the pedestrian who is not paying attention, or the other vehicle which is crossing over without warning. I see a lot of regulation with strict laws for self-driving vehicles in cities, as well as highways at high speeds implemented and no doubt argued by the manufacturers. So much to test and many kinks to iron out. This will all happen and, in time, yes we’ll have self-driving vehicles. However, what will change? Not much. Deliveries will take place. Passengers will use mass transit, and individuals will use their cars.… Read more »
Sky Rota
BrainTrust
1 year 7 months ago

By the looks of that video, we won’t have to worry about retail because with no jobs people won’t be doing much shopping! Was kinda sad.

Peter Luff
BrainTrust

How about integrating personal shopper styling with retail stores as a hub? For instance, the e-Palette comes pre-stocked with clothes of the correct size and brings a personal shopper to your door! Maybe something already exists like that for the very high end? Then it becomes about utilization, CR and driving up average transaction value — nothing new, I know.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 7 months ago

I believe that innovations in transportation have always dramatically transformed retail and e-Palette-like concepts will have the same powerful effect that the U.S. highway system had on the development of retail malls in the mid 20th century. Drones will not just be deployed from a distribution center but from e-Palette-type vehicles and constantly rotated and recharged in the vehicle between stops for home deliveries of practically everything of reasonable weight. Mobile QSR will be the norm of prepared foods, fruits, snacks, drinks, etc. The autonomous food truck, DC or manufacturer-to-store distribution will be automated as the technology matures. We are at the beginning of a revolution in both transportation and retail that will forever change the market.

Byron Kerr
BrainTrust
Byron Kerr
Head of eCommerce, Tuft & Needle
1 year 7 months ago

Autonomous vehicles are clearly the future and have many applicable uses across both retail and service industries. I’m really interested to see how these vehicles work in more commercial or heavy load scenarios.

Is this the future of logistics companies? Moving freight via autonomous vehicles? While there are lots of potential applications, the infrastructure to accommodate them will require massive investment and changes to consumer behavior over time (as with any disruptive technology).

What a time to witness what was once science fiction coming to fruition!

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Autonomous technology will drive deeper into the more mainstream market in the coming years. Self-driving vehicles will help extend retailers’ presence, but cost could become a concern. Just because you could send a store to each shopper, the economies of scale will still be a limiting factor. And with more limited space than a traditional store, personalization will become even more important.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

This kind of technology dramatically alters what retail looks like today. Making distribution and the last mile of delivery (presumably) much more cost efficient opens up new opportunities and new business models that haven’t been dreamed up yet. And Automated Mobility as a Service sounds like it will make engaging with this technology accessible for even the smallest players letting the consumer benefit from the long tail of innovation.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

The applications for MaaS are endless. Consumers want convenience and anything that can make happen is worth thinking about. The thing that comes to my mind is added clutter on our roads. I can almost see the need for new jobs like grid monitoring. The grid being the roads and highways. Also, I am not so sure there isn’t a lot more to the cost model. But that’s just my 2 cents.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

With transportation concepts like this one, the possibilities are almost limitless. The real question that should be asked is what will this do to urban congestion in areas with high concentrations of these vehicles? While it’s one thing to talk about what new services can be enabled from autonomous vehicles like this, they are usually not replacing an existing service but adding to it — which also adds to the congestion. It’s entertaining how the people in the video seem to ignore the existence of the autonomous vehicles as if they have always been an everyday part of life.

Certainly delivery in retail (and food service) will change dramatically with this technology. Back-end supply chain logistics will also change, presumably with less error and more efficiency that will help reduce costs for goods and therefore for consumers. I suspect however, that we will go through an era of new government regulations before we see these vehicles start filling our streets — maybe we’ll see a new road infrastructure developed to accommodate them.

Scott Norris
Guest

Wise elected officials would be embracing the opportunity to create clear, evolutionary requirements for autonomous vehicles and “smart roads/smart grids” — and investing in infrastructure now while interest rates are still at historic lows. The more modes are available, the more resilient and entrepreneurial our economy can be …

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The e-Palette is a great example of bold thinking, enabling retailers to truly step out the box and redefine what it means to fulfill customer needs."
"Self-driving vehicles will help extend retailers’ presence, but cost could become a concern."
"The applications for MaaS are endless. Consumers want convenience and anything that can make happen is worth thinking about."

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