If you are watching the Super Bowl this year, you'll notice a strange thing – a Toyota TV commercial seen around the globe did not feature a car.
The high-profile Super Bowl ad spots are eagerly watched worldwide for their creativity but this will be something rather more – signalling Toyota's serious global move to become not just a car maker but a "mobility company".
The Japanese concern with global reach announced this shift last year – but what does it actually mean?
In the New Zealand Herald website over the next few months, a new series involving Toyota and Dr Michelle Dickinson, of Nanogirl Labs, will showcase Toyota's move encompassing not just the mobility of cars…but of people.
Toyota is mobilising itself globally, saying it is now a "human movement company."
"Mobility For All", their new catch-cry, encompasses alternative energy sources, interconnected traffic and safety systems, human-assisting robots and new modes of personal transport. Even more, Toyota's world-leading research labs in the US are working on ideas not just to help people move around outside their homes – but inside as well.
That signal shift includes concept projects like the Concept-i, an artificial intelligence-powered car which can sense emotion and develops a "relationship" with the driver, even taking control if the driver is ill or needs to focus on other tasks.
There is also Project Blaid – a prototype wearable mobility device which helps blind people to navigate public places like shopping malls and which has facial recognition technology to detect a friend or family member.
Other recently announced Toyota concept inventions include the i-Bot, a re-imagining of the amazing wheelchair which can handle difficult terrain, including stairs. A human support robot – designed to make independent living possible (for those with poor health or medical problems, for example) – assists with day-to-day tasks and connecting them to family and friends.
There will be updates and improvements on existing Toyota prototypes, like the tiny i-Ride car, an attempt to demonstrate what the commuters of the future will move around in and the i-Walk, a footpath mobility device that takes up the same physical space as a person walking and which can anticipate and avoid collisions automatically – like a Segway but easier to use and "smarter" with its no-collisions technology.
If all of this seems avowedly futuristic, remember Toyota's Prius. When it was first mooted, cynics said it would never work. Since then, Toyota has sold over 10 million of the hybrid cars through mass production and has paved the way for the evolution of electric vehicles.
Now Toyota is showing a passion for mobility beyond cars – extending their capabilities and their business into technologies to help people move around town…or across the room. They are also eyeing the evolving needs of rapidly aging populations in developed countries – hence concept projects like a walking rehabilitation robot, a wheelchair-accessible micro-car and the i-Walk.
The cooperation with Dickinson will investigate and outline many such advances and she says: "We work hard to engage New Zealanders around innovation and the way our lives will change as technology evolves. Toyota is a company at the cutting edge of innovation and with deep connection to Kiwis."
"At Nanogirl Labs, we follow – and help to create – the latest advances in science and technology. Through this partnership we now have an even greater opportunity to share this with New Zealand."