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15 October 2012

Toyota’s Smart INSECT: Living a Bug’s life… small and hopefully short

Words by Carl Trocio | Photos courtesy of Toyota Motor Company
Concept cars are car manufacturers’ way of keeping their designers awake. It seems that Toyota’s design crew locked themselves in a room, had a back-to-back DVD marathon of Disney’s “A Bug’s Life” and “Cars” and hit their drawing boards while still having a hangover with the Toyota COMS electric vehicle. The probable result of that kiddie slumber party might have been the Toyota Smart INSECT. No “Mr. I-can-put-two-and-two-together,” this is not Toyota’s love child with Daimler’s Smart brand. Geez, if you call a kid smart does it automatically mean Daimler impregnated the kid’s mom?
Toyota showed off their new concept live at the 2012 CEATEC (short for Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) show in Japan. The INSECT, which stands for Information Network Social Electric City Transporter, is based on an ultra compact, electric powered, single-seater with all the technology to keep you connected to your home, vehicle, people, and hopefully the road through the cloud-based Toyota Smart Center.  
The payload of this little bugger is a techie’s wet dream and voice recognition for starters. Borrowing the technology from the Microsoft Kinect, the INSECT can recognize pre-registered drivers and automatically opens the door, greet him or her with blinking lights, sounds, and messages in the instrument panel. Isn’t that precious? Once inside, the driver can connect to a virtual operator that handles navigation, learns the user’s preferences, destinations, playlists, favorite colors, and even embarrassing moments. (Okay, the last two were long shots.)
So you have a ride that only fits one, greets you when you’re there, knows stuff about you, has intuition, and requires attention. It’s a Toyota girlfriend. Now if it can only make a sandwich...
Outside, they called it as they saw it - an insect. With its small profile, beady eyes, and gullwing doors that look like…uh… wings, there’s no other name to call it. Which makes us wonder: Did Toyota design the car first and then name it? Or did they name it and then designed the car? Did they put in all that technology after they found the abbreviation to the name or vice versa?
Although this is more of an exercise on how much connectivity can be put in an automobile platform, rather than showcasing the car. The Toyota Coms’ can give us an idea of what it can do. It might achieve the mind numbing top speed of 60 km/h - safe enough to walk away from a crash of that speed since your mind will actually be numb given the amount of connectivity you have inside that cocoon. At a full charge and suitable road conditions, it can give you around 50 kilometers until the next charge. But given the extra doodads on the INSECT that require power, you’ll probably get less than that. 
For years car manufacturers have been toying with the idea of moving individuals around the urban setting with lower emissions while keeping the passenger connected to the world. This idea must have been leaked to the public as people have already executed such revolutionary concept… it is called “walking with a cellphone”. Further developments came out like a bicycle and the hands free kit to increase safety and distance.