This is what it’s like inside Toyota’s Concept-i

Behind the wheel of Toyota’s vision for driverless cars

We’ve seen more than a few driverless concept cars over the recent years at CES, but Toyota’s crazy cool Concept-i at CES 2017 is one that – after spending some time inside – we wish were for sale right now.

That’s because the Concept-i is one of the few we’ve seen that actually maintains the feeling of a traditional car. There are even gas and brake pedals and a steering wheel that don't disappear – go figure!

The top half of the vehicle is nearly all glass, offering more visibility than we’ve seen in a vehicle, so much so that Toyota didn’t feel the need to provide side mirrors. The white surface that wraps the frame and tapers off into a golden tail has LEDs underneath throughout that display information as well as act as the headlights and tail lights of the vehicle.

Speaking of which, those headlights actually wink at you as you approach the car, after which the car greets you with a female voice and displays a simple “Hello” in purple light on the driver-side door.

The Concept-i is Yui, and Yui is the Concept-i

That’s Yui, the AI and interior interface that Toyota has developed for the Concept-i. With those same lights (and sounds) literally travelling through in the interior of the vehicle and centered in the dash, Yui essentially is the Concept-i.

We get the sense after being inside the vehicle that operating the Concept-i isn’t so much driving the vehicle as it is working with Yui to drive the vehicle. For instance, the car will not start for those that have not registered their biometrics with it, i.e. their palm print.

You see, the emission-free Concept-i doesn’t have a traditional starter – not even like those keyless ignitions we’ve seen grow more popular lately. To start the car, you place your palm on a small, LED-lit orb that rises slightly out of the armrest to read your palm.

From there, Yui greets you and asks where you’d like to go. She understands contextual commands and learns your language patterns over time. So, if you said to Yui that you’d like to go to the baseball game, she knows where you are and where the next game is in the immediate area – on the way, she can even buy your tickets for you.

In the driver’s seat of the future

Being inside the Concept-i feels like stepping into the future, frankly. It’s the Jarvis-like experience we’ve all pined for since seeing the first Iron Man flick.

The seats aren’t awfully comfortable, to be honest, but who cares? You’re inside of a car that’s talking to you and can take you anywhere you want to go without you needing to lift a finger yet is also ready for whenever you want to take the wheel.

We feel like the Concept-i, or Yui, is closer to what we’d expect a driverless car to be than the driverless concepts that have preceded it. Now, here’s to hoping it won’t be long before we can be inside such a vehicle that’s on the road – not a press conference stage.

New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2017 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth.