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Toyota builds smart city in Japan with eye on self-driving R&D

'Woven City' will repurpose old plant into living lab for mobility and other technologies

Woven City will be built on the site of a former Toyota plant near Mount Fuji. (Image from Woven City Facebook account)

NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota Motor officially broke ground Tuesday on a futuristic city to serve as a test bed for technologies ranging from cutting-edge cars to robotics and artificial intelligence.

Woven City -- a nod to Toyota's origin as a loom manufacturer -- will feature three types of streets: one for automated driving, another for pedestrians, and a third for users of personal mobility devices.

An underground road will accommodate automated delivery vehicles. The population is seen eventually exceeding 2,000, including older adults, families with young children, and Toyota employees.

The city will be built on the 700,000-sq.-meter site of a former Toyota plant near Mount Fuji that closed after 53 years of operation at the end of last year. The Higashi-Fuji plant made everything from the flagship Toyota Century to the taxicab JPN Taxi and employed a total of 7,000 people during its run. 

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said the spirit of kaizen, Toyota's signature slogan meaning "continuous improvement," will be inherited.  

"The unwavering themes of the Woven City are 'human-centered,' 'a living laboratory' and 'ever-evolving,'" Toyoda said. "We will take on the challenge of creating a future where people of diverse backgrounds are able to live happily," he said.

It is unusual for a Japanese automaker to jump into development of a city based on next-generation automotive services. Woven Alpha, a unit of Toyota group company Woven Planet Holdings, will handle the actual development.

Partners include Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. Toyota and NTT agreed to a capital and business tie-up in 2020, aiming to build a smart-city platform to take global.

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