BLOG: Toyota’s creativity renaissance goes beyond cars

Toyota calls the Setsuna concept a “time machine” because the car “defies the notion that cars should only be seen as industrial products loaded with the latest technologies.”

TOKYO — There’s little argument Toyota Motor Corp. has pushed its limits of creativity — for better or worse — with recent car designs. Consider the gap-grilled Mirai fuel cell sedan or the C-HR compact crossover with its flamboyant fenders.

But Japan’s biggest automaker is arguably in the midst of a creativity renaissance stretching far beyond cars.

The new horizons themselves testify to rekindled inventiveness. Just think back to the “hoverboard” floated last year by Lexus.

Here are three spring 2016 innovations that show Toyota has its creative juices pumping in some weird and wonderful ways.

Exhibit A: The Setsuna concept car

It’s not a vintage wooden motorboat, though it certainly could pass for one. The cedar- and birch-paneled two-seat electric roadster is Toyota’s entry at April’s Milan Design Week expo.

Toyota calls the Setsuna a “time machine” because the car “defies the notion that cars should only be seen as industrial products loaded with the latest technologies.”

Indeed, Setsuna is very retro. Starting with the wooden slats that comprise its boat-shaped body and frame. Then there are the open wheels, the rudimentary Jeep-style windscreen and a special analogue clock meter in machined aluminum.

Yet this timepiece does more than tell the hour of day. It also has a “day” hand counting off the days that makes one circuit in 365 days. It has another meter counting off the years to 100.

Setsuna means “moment” in Japanese, and this car aims to chronical every passing moment through a person’s lifetime.

It’s a cool cross between an old school Chrysler Town and Country woodie convertible and a Volkswagen Kuebelwagen.

Exhibit B: BLAID wearable mobility device

Remember Lt. Commander La Forge, the blind chief engineer from “Star Trek: The Next Generation?” He wore this literally space-age visor that enabled him to see. Well, Toyota is working on something similar for the here and now, not the year 2364.

Through Project BLAID, Toyota is creating a kind of collar that wraps around the shoulders of vision-impaired people and uses cameras to help them see. It detects obstacles such as restrooms, doors, stairs, escalators and then guides the person in the right direction through speakers and vibrating motors.

The wearer interacts with the device through voice recognition and buttons. Toyota says BLAID enters beta testing “soon.”

Exhibit C: Carbon fiber Japanese school backpack

In Japan, elementary school children trundle off to class in the obligatory randoseru rucksack. Frumpy and square, the iconic packs are heavy, stiff and traditionally made of leather, to bear the burden of books Japanese kids are compelled to carry.

And they aren’t cheap, easily fetching hundreds of dollars.

Now Toyota’s solved one problem (while creating another.)

Enter the new Lexus-branded carbon fiber randoseru. You better bet it is lightweight and durable thanks to the carbon fiber.

But it’s also outrageously expensive for the same reason.

Starting price: 150,000 yen ($1,333) in a choice of five colors. Add $30 to have your cherished cherub’s name embroidered

Sure, it’s one sexy satchel. But Toyota’s marketing wizards have got to be creatively insane just to have dreamed it up.

Here’s a link to the uber-pricey homework hauler in the Spring 2016 Lexus Collection catalog of Lexus knickknacks.

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