Welcome to a whole new world: Construction begins on the first futuristic city at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan.

Envisioned as a “living laboratory”, Japan’s Woven City will serve as a home to full-time residents and researchers, who will be able to test and develop technologies such as autonomy, robotics, personal mobility, smart homes and artificial intelligence applications in a real-world environment.

Akio Toyoda, the current president of Toyota Motor Corporation, shares the latest update on this ambitious project.

“I want to set the commencement date as February 23,” he says. “The reason why it’s February 23 – or 2-2-3 – is that, when you read that date in Japanese, it reads ‘Fuji-san’ (or Mount Fuji). It feels like the right fit for the project.

“We are in the process of transitioning into a mobility company, and are planning to use this location to develop products that can be of value in the future. One such product will most likely be automated vehicles. However, we do not merely want to develop an automated vehicle, but one that is integrated into the city’s infrastructure. By integrating the vehicle into the infrastructure, the speed of development should also accelerate significantly.

“Within that framework, I think the biggest news is that we have already developed one of the basic units that will be used to create Woven City. That ‘basic unit’ is a reference to a single block of the city, set to measure 150 metres by 150 metres. The unit will have three roads ‘woven’ at ground level, as well as one underground road. Of the three roads at ground level, one will be earmarked solely for use by autonomous vehicles. The second above-ground road will be dedicated to pedestrian use, while the third above-ground road will be shared by small mobility vehicles and pedestrians. This will make it much easier for us to secure the level of safety needed for autonomous driving vehicles.

“On the ground level, as one would expect, there’ll be different seasons and weather conditions – sun, rain, heat and cold. The conditions on the above-ground roads will therefore change according to the weather. Underground, however, we will be able to test vehicles without changes in road conditions caused by the weather.

“The ground level will have roads for the movement of people, while the underground will be used for the movement of goods. Since underground road conditions will not change, that road can be used for testing the simplest levels of automated driving.

“We are considering having about 360 residents in this city. The residents will include elderly people, families and inventors. I believe that families and the elderly are the demographic groups facing the greatest social challenges today.

“We want the inventors to live side by side with the aforementioned demographic groups, so they can constantly work on innovations that will be helpful in resolving the challenges that the elderly and families face. These inventors will be given a set period of time to work on their mission. If they cannot produce results in that period of time, they will be replaced by other inventors.

“We’re trying to construct a mechanism that will bring this place to the forefront of active innovation. As such, Woven City will be an ever-evolving city, and will never truly be ‘finished’.”