Toyota's futuristic LQ all-electric pod car isn't just ushering in this year's Summer Olympics as the official torch relay escort vehicle. It also foreshadows a host of new auto technologies, including an innovative seat to keep drivers rested, relaxed and ready to roll.
The seating setup, developed by Toyota Motor Corp. and Toyota Group seating supplier Toyota Boshoku Corp., monitors the driver to increase alertness or alleviate stress. It does so by regulating air bladders embedded in the seat back. When the system recognizes that the driver is tired, it inflates the bladders to give the driver a little added support and lift.
The system highlights how seating has become an increasingly complex matter and will continue to be so in the age of autonomous driving and artificial intelligence.
The LQ's seat works with an integrated driver-monitoring system, overseen by an onboard AI agent named Yui. Using information from a camera that monitors the driver's facial expressions and a 3D sensor, the system leverages deep learning to gauge the state of the driver's emotions and fatigue. Aside from the seats, it automatically modulates in-vehicle illumination, air conditioning, fragrances and other human-machine interfaces.
Toyota says inflating the air bladders exerts pressure on the upper part of the lumbar vertebrae, slightly stretching the back to improve blood flow, supports an upright posture and induces wakefulness. Meanwhile, cool air from the seat's ventilation system helps to keep drivers alert.
But when the driver can relax more, such as when the vehicle is driving in autonomous mode, the air bladders rhythmically inflate and contract to encourage deep, relaxing breathing.
The seating is part of Toyota's vision for delivering a future "personalized mobility experience."
The LQ builds on the Concept-i, first exhibited at the 2017 CES in Las Vegas. The four-passenger car envisions a self-driving future in which onboard digital assistants help with everything from navigation to safety and comfort. The LQ features Level 4 autonomous driving technology, meaning that it can drive itself without requiring the driver to take control.