Toyota’s LQ concept car will make friends with you via its onboard AI

Toyota is doubling down on its prediction that the key to building a compelling car of the future will be creating a true connection between car and driver (or passenger, depending on whether or not you’re using autonomous mode). The car maker’s new LQ concept is an evolution of the Concept-i vehicle it unveiled at CES in 2017, complete with its onboard “Yui” virtual assistant.

The LQ inherits some of the same design lines and themes as the Concept-i, but working with its R&D arm, the Toyota Research Institute, the LQ gains even more advanced autonomous driving capabilities, and an updated Yui that’s more responsive to the driver in terms of learning and adapting to their behavior and preferences.

Yui interacts with the driver using a voice interface, as well as illumination, air condition control and even emitting fragrances, in order to optimize their mood, strengthen that bond between car and human and even ensure their continued alertness in cases where the driver might need to take over from the onboard autonomous driving features of the LQ.

Speaking of autonomy, the LQ is designed with SAE Level 4 self-driving features on board, which means that it should be able to handle driving tasks completely without the interference of the person behind the wheel. It also boasts “Automated Valet” tech built in partnership with Panasonic for traveling on its own between parking spaces and pick-up/drop-off points, which Toyota says helps when working with drivers that need extra assistance and accessibility.

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Toyota still recognizes the need for the driver to be present when it makes sense, however, and so the LQ incorporates a newly designed seating system that can inflate air bladders embedded in the seat to put the driver in a more upright pose, and to blast them with cold air when attentiveness is key. When it’s not, however, the air bladders mimic a slow breathing rhythm, inflating and deflating gradually to promote a relaxed breathing pattern for the driver, too.

Color-coded interior lights also help Yui communicate with the driver and any passengers — floor-mounted lights can change color to indicate which party the car’s AI-powered assistant is addressing, for instance, and exterior lights, including a programmable pattern projector installed in the headlights, can visually “talk” to people outside the car. All the dash-mounted displays on the LQ are OLED, for better visibility and power consumption, and there’s an emission scrubbing system that works as the vehicle propels itself for a new level of interior air quality cleanliness.

Of course, this is a concept car, so many of these technologies are a blend of theory and practice at this stage. But Toyota seems intent on a vision of the automotive future where your car is both functional and friendly, and I’m here for it.