Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

AMERICAN WRITER and novelist Pearl Buck once wrote: “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

It’s become highly apparent that this sentiment underpins what Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) is doing for quite a while now. At the 2017 staging of the Tokyo Motor Show (TMS), the Japan-headquartered multinational automotive manufacturer declared it had ceased to be a “car company” and was calling itself a “human movement company” — a concept further emphasized by the firm’s President, Akio Toyoda, at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The executive spoke of Toyota becoming a “global mobility company” as he unveiled the “e-Palette mobility-as-a-service concept and a new corporate focus on products and services designed to extend freedom of movement to all,” according to a recent release. The e-Palette is a fully autonomous, battery-electric vehicle which can be used for purposes like ride-sharing, logistics, and mobile shops.

This is not set to debut in the distant future, either. Just like the rest of Japan, Toyota is keen on taking advantage of next year’s staging of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo to flex its muscles. More importantly, it is flexing said muscles on behalf of the infirm or differently abled. This sentiment converges perfectly with an industry push towards the seeming inevitability of autonomous vehicles.

At the Big Sight, venue of the 46th TMS, there were no new market-ready production vehicles on display for Toyota. Rather, the booth was rendered as a “mobility theme park,” with the theme: “Play the Future.”

Earlier, Toyota had bannered its active involvement as a major sponsor of both the Olympic and Paralympic games — highlighted by the words “Start Your Impossible.” The company says this “marks Toyota’s commitment to supporting the creation of a more inclusive and sustainable society in which everyone can challenge their impossible. The fully integrated campaign also highlights Toyota’s mission to create a barrier-free society, and reinforces the company’s values of humility, hard work, overcoming challenges, and never giving up.”

Some 300 members of the media from 31 countries were shown how Toyota is helping a number of para athletes — including our own Paralympic swimmer Ernie Gawilan — in their quest for glory. In addition, Toyota is aiding these so-called “dual heroes” champion other causes. In Mr. Gawilan’s case, it’s about saving the environment through coastal cleanups. In Tokyo, he recalled to this writer how he learned to swim at age 11 or 12 in the waters off Samal Island.

“At Toyota, we embrace the potential of new technology to help us create products and services that enable people to overcome barriers and to reach their potential. The Olympic and Paralympic Games align with Toyota’s values and are platforms to showcase our global commitment to the concept of mobility for all,” said TMC Marketing Division General Manager Susumu Matsuda. A total of 16 athletes are taking part in Toyota’s “Mobility for All” campaign.

The company will deploy 20 e-Palettes at the 2020 Olympics to help transport athletes, along with Human Support Robot (HSR) and Delivery Support Robot (DSR) units. Wheelchair-riding attendees will be guided to accessible seating by the HSRs, which can also deliver light meals and goods to them. The DSRs “will directly deliver drinks and other goods to spectators that they have ordered from a dedicated tablet.” Some 500 seats at the Olympics and another 500 at the Paralympics reserved for spectators who needed mobility assistance will be served by these robots.

Mr. Toyoda underscored in his speech at the opening of the Toyota booth at TMS: “Our booth this time does not feature a single car to be launched next year. All that is found here are forms of mobility that link to society and communities and that provide modes of getting around and services to people.

“I believe that the more automation advances, the more the ability of people… will be put to the test. For example, people’s warmth and kindness… and also the hearts that feel such. What we want to express through our booth is the concept of people connected. (It) refers to a society in which people are linked — a society in which the warmth and kindness of people can be felt.”