Toyota’s ePalette

Toyota, the second biggest automaker in the world, announced an ambitious plan today to tackle mobility and delivery services in the age of autonomous cars. Apparently it involves weird, see-through self-driving boxes roaming through cities, delivering people, packages, and pizza.

Toyota is calling them “e-Palettes” and describes them as “fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle[s] designed to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service businesses.” Think of them as transparent cargo or shipping containers on wheels that grow and shrink in size depending on their specific task.

Toyota envisions these serving a variety of functions, from typical mobility services like ride-sharing and carpooling, to less-typical purposes like serving as mobile office and retail space, medical clinics, hotel rooms, and more. Need a new pair of shoes? Summon the mobile shoe palette and try on different sizes as you travel from here to there. Hungry from some pizza? Hail the roaming pizza oven, complete with (prisoner?) chef. As far as concepts go, this one is pretty out there.

“Just think how good e-Palette would be at Burning man,” quipped Akio Toyoda, Toyota Motor Company’s bespectacled president, from the stage at CES in Las Vegas today. That about sums it up.

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First Solar-powered Train

The world’s first solar-powered train is here!

India’s first solar-powered trains has begun service, running a 12.5-mile route from Delhi’s Safdarjung station to Farukh Nagar in the country’s north. The diesel-electric hybrid train has six coach cars with solar panels embedded in their roofs. The panels feed a battery that can power the train for up to 72 hours. Roughly 50 solar-harvesting coaches are set to be launched in the next several days, running primarily along commuter routes.

The new trains are a part of Indian Railways’s plan to establish an energy-generation capacity of 1 gigawatt of solar and 130 megawatts of wind power in the next five years. The state-owned company has been using train-mounted solar panels since 2015 to power interior lights and air conditioning, but their newest train is the first in the world to use solar power.

India isn’t the only country exploring solar-powered trains. A research team at the Imperial College London is embarking on a similar quest to take trains off-grid and power them with solar energy. However, the UK project is looking to track-side solar panels, not ones directly mounted to the trains themselves.

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