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Toyota's e-Palette concept is a self-driving store that comes to you

Toyota (TM) is one of the world’s largest automakers. But at CES 2018, the company showed off a concept that has little to do with selling cars, and more to do with selling sneakers, delivering Italian food, or setting you up in a mobile hotel room.

No, the folks at Toyota haven’t collectively lost their minds, instead the move is part of the company’s all-new e-Palette concept vehicle and Global Mobility Services Platform. Essentially, Toyota and a handful of partners are working on self-driving vehicles that can deliver retail experiences directly to your location.

So instead of leaving your house to go to the store, or waiting a whole two agonizing days for Amazon to deliver your package, an e-Palette vehicle can show up at your front door, or wherever you summon it using an app, and provide you with a mobile shopping store, restaurant or even a hotel.

Toyota isn’t going it alone, though. The company has created an e-Palette Alliance and some big names, including Amazon (AMZN), DiDi, Mazda (MZDAY), Pizza Hut and Uber, have already signed on to help with the development of the software and hardware needed to get such an audacious plan up and running.

The e-Palette can be configured for a number of retail purposes.

The e-Palette vehicle will measure between 13 feet and 23 feet long, depending on the model being used, and will have a completely customizable interior. Toyota says that partner companies will be able to use their own self-driving vehicle software rather than use Toyota’s if they prefer.

No guarantees

Of course, this is all just a concept right now, and nothing about the e-Palette vehicle or e-Palette Alliance is set in stone. The whole thing could fall apart, or produce some other kind of vehicle or service.

Toyota says that it’s working with partners to conduct feasibility studies of the e-Palette in the U.S. and other countries around the world by 2020. The company also hopes to have some kind of e-Palette vehicle in use in time for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

E-Palette falls into the so-called mobility-as-a-service industry, which could one day include self-driving vehicles that you rent to take you around town, then leave to pick up other travelers when you’re finished with your trip.

Out of all of the e-Palette Alliance members, Amazon would seem to be the best fit for the e-Palette. Imagine, instead of ordering a dress or pair of shoes and getting them only to realize you hate the color or design when you see it in-person, you would simply call an e-Palette outfitted with a slew of dresses and shoes that you can just try on immediately.

If they managed to come up with an e-Palette that ships nothing but candy and video games, I might never leave my home.

More from Dan:

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.


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