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Toyota's latest electric car resembles a chair

Toyota’s single-seat electric car resembles an armchair on three wheels and comes with a virtual "friend" programmed inside.
Demonstrators ride Toyota's "i-swing" at the 39th Tokyo Motor Show. The rider accelerates, brakes and turns by moving a joystick and adjusting the body much like skiing.Shizuo Kambayashi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toyota’s single-seat electric car resembles a soft cuddly armchair on three wheels and comes with a virtual “friend” programmed inside that learns the driver’s tastes and personality.

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. says its “i-swing,” which can be seen zipping around on a stage at the Tokyo Motor Show, is a car that’s designed to be more than a cold machine, and for use on sidewalks as well as roads.

It can travel on three or two wheels, and its body is made of polyurethane and covered in fabric — to soften the impact if it bumps into people, Toyota says.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe came out riding in an i-swing for his presentation to reporters Wednesday at the exhibition, which opens to the public Saturday in Chiba, outside Tokyo.

“We think it’d be fun if a driver and a car can grow together,” says Hideo Miwa, a Toyota designer. “We wanted to treat the car like a living thing.”

Imagine driving around in the i-swing and its artificial intelligence, which will pop up as a mascot character in a display at the driver’s shoulder, will point out a noodle shop that’s sure to match your palate, Miwa said.

The robotics technology in the car will also work to remind you if you’re running late to class, or give you fashion advice.

The i-swing — a “concept car” with no plans for commercial sales — is an upgrade of earlier concept cars designed to help with what Toyota calls “personal mobility,” meant to blend in with pedestrians on the streets.

That’s why the automaker chose soft material for the i-swing’s body, and the ultimate goal would be to make a wearable vehicle, Miwa said.

The front wheel folds back in between the two rear wheels to make the vehicle more upright and take up less room if the driver wants to travel more slowly on sidewalks, but it goes faster on three wheels.

A colorful display in front works more like a screensaver of a personal computer so people can express themselves with images of their choice, according to Toyota.