TOKYO has Cat Bars, where you can pay to play with kittens, and Big Sister bars, where someone will be mean to you and throw drinks in your face for money, and, every two years, it also has the most weird and wonderful Motor Show in the world.
Amongst the crazed concept cars, flashing lights and teetering tiny promo girls in big shoes, the real highlight this year was a car that seems to be fashioned out of bright, high-tech bean bags that double as LED information screens to tell the people around you what you're up to.
Behold the Flesby, a car-like device designed to protect dim-witted pedestrians and dangerously uncool Segway riders from themselves, by wearing its airbags, coated in a slick polymer material, on the outside.
Aside from the Astro Boy Japanese cuteness of this single-person mobility device, the greatest thing about seeing it on the stand was that you were encouraged to touch a sample of its external panels, an almost disturbing experience because it feels not unlike some particularly rubbery flesh. One imagines it’s a bit like Kim Kardashian’s rear bumper, in fact.
It’s doubtful whether someone of her size could fit inside this Japanese-scale, sub-kei hybrid, which is just 1370mm high, 3040mm long and 1200 wide.
While the exterior screens are bit of a gimmick - Look at me, I’m in EV mode, saving the whales, which I’ll then eat for lunch! - the fact that the rear one can light up with a massive hazard symbol when you brake hard is an eye-catching idea.
The tiny interior is also a high-tech wonderland, with a Signal Cockpit Link that uses LEDs to recreate the environment and lighting you’re driving through, inside the vehicle. The Flesby can also apparently sense your mood and posture and will change its lighting, music and “ambience” to suit, which makes you wonder what happens when it senses you’re having road rage..
The Flesby, created by Toyoda Gosei, one of Toyota’s more adventurous sub-brands, can also change shape at speed, to reduce wind resistance and save fuel, thank to its Flexible Smart Body. This is fantastic to watch, because it actually assumes the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog’s helmet when it’s on the highway.
Toyota Gosei believes the Flesby represents the kind of personal-mobility vehicles that will be common on our roads by 2030. It’s likely most of those roads will be in Japan, which is a veritable sea of pedestrians already, and its main trick is to protect them from themselves. While the Flesby can light up with a sign saying “Don’t Rush Out” to tell people to stay on the kerb, the goal of its external airbags is to make it not just safe but damn near enjoyable for a pedestrian to ram into the sides. Driving one could be like piloting a tiny bouncy castle on wheels.
Which wouldn’t be out of place at all in Tokyo.