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"Smart INSECT": Toyota's cloud-enabled, single-passenger electric vehicle


October 3, 2012

Conceptual image of the Toyota Smart Insect (front)

Conceptual image of the Toyota Smart Insect (front)

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Automakers have been toying with the idea of single passenger vehicles in an attempt to reduce emissions in urban centers, and Toyota's Coms is one such example. The company is showing off a new concept version based on this ultra-compact, single passenger electric vehicle dubbed the "Smart INSECT" at CEATEC JAPAN 2012 this week. Short for "information network social electric city transporter," it would connect the home, vehicle, and people in new ways through Toyota's cloud services.

The Smart INSECT's cabin features flashy gull-wing doors, and incorporates new features like face and voice recognition. Motion sensors and cameras recognize pre-registered drivers as they approach, and will greet him or her with blinking lights, sounds, and messages from the instrument panel. It also anticipates the driver's intentions by tracking body movements, such as opening doors automatically when the driver reaches for them.

The interior features a large display above the steering wheel, which provides a detailed GPS navigation system. This is connected to the cloud-based Toyota Smart Center, which hosts a virtual agent that can provide navigation instructions via voice command.

As user data accumulates in the cloud, the system learns the driver's preferences and common destinations, such as "home" or "office." It could also make suggestions – from restaurants to playlists – based on personal tastes, and allow owners to lock up their house or activate the home's air conditioner on the way there.

The Smart Insect is just a concept for now, but the regular Coms gives us an idea of its capabilities. Priced at approximately US$10,000, it can achieve a top speed of 37.5 mph (60 km/h) and has a range of about 31 miles (50 km). Toyota says it's sold around a thousand of them so far, but it seems we'll have to wait until a breakthrough in battery technology before vehicles like this become practical outside of Japan's dense urban centers.

Source: Toyota via Monoist (Japanese)

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

Horrible idea for Door hinge placement.

Peter Phoomahal Jr

"Priced at approximately US$10,000, it can achieve a top speed of 37.5 mph (60 km/h) and has a range of about 31 miles (50 km). "

Though I like the styling of the Toyota's Smart Insect (weird name btw), it seems like A LOT of money for such low performance and only ONE seat.

The Renault Twizy has two seats and better speed and mileage for about the same amount of money.


Overdesigned, as concepts usually are.

-There's no reason to use the more complex gull-wing style doors when there are two other tried-and-true door mechanisms in use in millions of vehicles (typical door, and sliding van door). -The wheel wells are so tight, there doesn't appear to be any suspension travel. -Automatically opening the trunk is an unnecessary expense and luxury in what is apparently meant to be a commuter vehicle. -The whole front is clearly designed to look cool, rather than be aerodynamic. -It's far better to provide a tablet docking area that comes with a cheap, basic tablet serving as little more than a dashboard, rather than something totally integrated which cannot easily be serviced or upgraded. -The open spaces on the side create a lot of drag and turbulence, reducing efficiency.

Bottom line, if this is going to sell, it has to be as cheap as it is effective, and as stylish as it is simple. Relying on flashy gimmicks like gull-wing doors and a trunk that opens when you wave at it will get Toyota nowhere.

I feel it would be better for them to start with a basic, fundamental design that works well (efficient, stylish, enjoyable, & cheap), and THEN add features like driver recognition in later models, or through a tablet/smartphone app that gets updated.

Joel Detrow


"-It's far better to provide a tablet docking area that comes with a cheap, basic tablet serving as little more than a dashboard, rather than something totally integrated which cannot easily be serviced or upgraded."

This, so much this. The first car company to let people dock a standard tablet (and replace upgrade that tablet later) is going to make huge waves.


Not being capable of highway speeds will severely limit the market for this concept. A good idea for a 1 person but not good enough.

Max Kennedy

I was thinking the same thing: let my phone or tablet be the "smart" brains of the vehicle... and keep the costs down. Just give me a safe, inexpensive vehicle without all the bells/whistles. Even make my phone or tablet be the music. Just need an amp and speakers in the car only.

Matt Rings

I would way rather have the Volkswagen L1, even if they never seriously would sell it for $600 (truth was closer to $25,900, which is another colossal mistake, and it was supposed to be released in 2010 and I certainly have never seen any of them anywhere). I would want the L1 because of the inspired salt-flat styling, but also because you could fit two of them in one parking stall. It is/was a tandem car practically no bigger than a motorcycle. It had a 299cc diesel with over 200 mpg and sure made a lot of sense at $600, no sense at all at $25,900.

Second best is the Volkswagen NILS, but I think that's just another concept car. For about $10,000 they were blowing out 2011 Smart Cars, I'd have a smart car over the insect.



Brilliant thought. I look forward to tablet dockable cars, where enhanced functionality is handled by the tablet and is easily upgraded.

Allen Hillman

I am confused as to the purpose of the Smart Insect. It does less than a golf cart, transportation wise, e.g., single, not multiple passengers. It carries less payload. About the same range/speed.

I concede drag & weight are less important with such a low speed, but still no attempt was made to address these two fundamentals. (I assume, because I can see the first, and no mention was made of weight.)


Theres something about the one passenger that makes me want this...

Mr. E... vans

We already have Tablet vehicles! They are called airplanes. Many of us in Biz and private aviation use Galaxy Tabs, iPads and Win7 Tabs as cockpit information and navigation systems. They are removed and taken with us as ground nav systems, and most of the desktop functions we need. It is wonderful, and as a new model comes out we can upgrade. Update my Lexus GPS= $1500, Update to the latest Android/iPad $200-450. Duh


Toyota's Smart Insect seems like a great idea for the suburbs to use to and from the train station or around town as a second or third family vehicle. Would be a lot more usable with room to squeeze in a passenger. Internet connectivity and even GPS make no sense in a vehicle with a range of about 30 miles. Golf carts have more range and speed but cost less. Toyota could sell 100's of thousands of these if they cost $2,500. Trying to sell them for $10,000 is crazy.

Jeff Goldstein

nice electronic gizmo + electric car integration. too bad that Ford and Microsoft have a patent monopoly on computer/car integration and Apple seems to have a tablet monopoly now. i'd love to see a plugin Prius or IQ with a tablet-dash dock that would provide separation between electronic control and the drive hardware. just had a problem with the Prius dying when the 12 volt battery circuit failed. if there had been that kind of safety net with a removable tablet, it probably wouldn't have happened. but with the proprietary nature of computer and auto tech. and the litigious nature of the patent system, i have no hope of such a useful system.

:) .

Joe Wesson

even better is the BMW Simple and Clever designs,which offer more speed,more fun and the seating comfort of their sedans.I'm really surprised people except this as the norm,a daily ride in a 4000 pound vehicle with one person onboard,taking up the space of three BMW Simples,wasting fuel,doing 20 mph.Geez leave the hog home,for the family to use.I want a change now,not 10 or 20 years,what a waste of time,space and money.

Thomas Lewis

If this were combined with Bombardier's Primove technology this could go a lot further . . .

Jordan Ralph White
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