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Green self-driving cars take center stage at Tokyo auto show

Visions of cars that drive themselves without emitting a bit of pollution while entertaining passengers with online movies and social media are what’s taking center stage at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Japan, home to the world’s top-selling automaker, has a younger generation disinterested in owning or driving cars. The show is about wooing them back. It’s also about pushing an ambitious government-backed plan that paints Japan as a leader in automated driving technology.

Reporters got a preview look at the exhibition ahead of its opening to the public Oct. 30. 

Nissan Motor Co. showed a concept vehicle loaded with laser scanners, a 360-degree camera setup, a radar and computer chips so the car can “think” to deliver autonomous driving. The Japanese automaker called it IDS, which stands for “intelligent driving system.”

Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, said it will offer some autonomous driving features by the end of next year in Japan. By 2018, it said vehicles with the technology will be able to conduct lane changes on highways. By 2020, such vehicles will be able to make their way through intersections on regular urban roads.

Nissan officials said they were working hard to make the car smart enough to recognize the difference between a red traffic light and a tail light, learn how to turn on intersections where white lane indicators might be missing and anticipate from body language when a pedestrian might cross a street.

Nissan’s IDS vehicle is also electric, with a new battery that’s more powerful than the one currently in the automaker’s Leaf electric vehicle. Although production and sales plans were still undecided, it can travel a longer distance on a single charge and recharge more quickly.  

A major challenge for cars that drive themselves is winning social acceptance. They would have to share the roads with normal cars with drivers as well as with pedestrians, animals and unexpected objects.

That’s why some automakers at the show are packing the technology into what looks more like a golf cart or scooter than a car, such as Honda Motor Co.’s cubicle-like Wander Stand and Wander Walker scooter.

Instead of trying to venture on freeways and other public roads, these are designed for controlled environments, restricted to shuttling people to pre-determined destinations.

At a special section of the show, visitors can try out some of the so-called “smart mobility” devices such as Honda’s seat on a single-wheel as well as small electric vehicles.

Regardless of how zanily futuristic and even dangerous such machines might feel, especially the idea of sharing roads with driverless cars, that era is inevitable simply because artificial intelligence is far better at avoiding accidents than human drivers, said HIS analyst Egil Juliussen. It just might take some time, such as until the 2030s, he said.

Such technology will offer mobility to people who can’t drive or who don’t have cars, and it can also reduce pollution and global warming by delivering efficient driving, he said.

Other automakers, including General Motors, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota and Tesla are working on self-driving technology, as are companies outside the industry, such as Google and Uber.

Cars already can connect to the Internet. Automakers envision a future in which cars would work much like smartphones today, to have passengers checking email, watching movies or checking out social media and leaving the driving to the car.  

Honda Chairman Fumihiko Ike, who is also head of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association which is organizing the show, said the Japanese government was putting tremendous pressure on Japan’s automakers to perfect self-driving features.

Japan is eager to showcase such technology in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, such as having driverless cars pick up athletes from airports and taking them to Olympic Village.  

But Ike acknowledged he had doubts. Unexpected things could happen on roads, like a package falling out of a van, and the human brain has better powers of the imagination than the best artificial intelligence, he said.

“We have to see,” Ike said on when self-driving cars might become common. “The final answer will be from the whole society.” 

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said the technology has clear benefits but also shared Ike’s reservations.

“It’s not that easy,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the show. “We are pursuing the technology, but we are also just being realistic.” 

Treat Mom to brunch on her day

It’s no wonder that brunch has become the traditional Mother’s Day meal: There’s plenty of time afterward to recover with a cocktail. Hedge your bets on having an enjoyable time by booking reservations at one of the following eateries.

Coquette Café

If Mom is a Francophile, this is your best option, short of a flight to Paris.  Amid simple but refined décor, this Third Ward eatery serves traditional French bistro fare. The onion soup with gruyere cheese is one of the best versions of the classic dish to be found in the area.  A vast selection of patés and wines rounds out the experience. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (316 N. Milwaukee, 414-291-2655, coquettecafe.com)


Old World glamor abounds in the 1920s-era Ambassador Hotel. Envoy is known for its unlimited small-plate menu, but Mother’s Day features a traditional brunch with the requisite stations – meat carving, waffles and omelets. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. $25.95 adults, $14.95 for kids 12 and younger. (At the Ambassador Hotel, 2308 W. Wisconsin, 414-345-5015, ambassadormilwaukee.com)

Fleming’s Steakhouse

You won’t find a better steak than at Fleming’s. Treat Mom to a three-course brunch and Fleming’s will throw in a $25 dining card for a future visit. This special is available at both the Madison and Brookfield locations. (Brookfield: 15665 W. Bluemound Rd., 262-782-9463, flemingssteakhouse.com/Milwaukee; Madison: 750 N. Midvale Blvd., 608-233-9550)

Il Mito

Il Mito has perfected its blend of breakfast and lunch dishes, plating up heaping helpings of eggs and waffles, breakfast pizzas and gluten-free options for its entrée menu. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (6917 W. North, 414-443-1414, ilmito.com)

Boerner Botanical Gardens

If Mother is a gardener, brunch by Bartolotta’s at the Boerner Botanical Garden is certain to be a hit.  A buffet of epicurean delights is served amid nature’s finest. 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (9400 Boerner, 414-525.5635, boernerbotanicalgardens.org)


If Mom was a wild child or wants to get in touch with her inner biker chick, lead her down the orange carpet to enjoy a buffet brunch. If you’re going with the entire family, there are special kids’ brunch tables. Each guest receives “Mom” temporary tattoos. Depending on the weather, patio dining will be available. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. $24.95 per adult, $9.95 children. (At the Harley-Davidson Museum, 400 Canal, 414-287.2778, harley-davidson.com)


This sustainable and organic bi-level spot serves its plated brunch menu for Mother’s Day. All mothers will receive a free plant (tomato, peppers and flowers), tied up with a bow. The great view of the city is an extra treat. Brunch service is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (1818 N. Hubbard, 414-374-8480, rootsmilwaukee.com)

Pfister Hotel

The folks at the Pfister brag that the brunch in the grand ballroom will make your mother “feel like a queen.” If you’re willing to share your throne by treating Mom to the $49 buffet brunch, she’ll get a $25 gift certificate for the Well Spa + Janice Salon. With prices at the Pfister, that might be enough to manicure one hand. But it’s the thought that counts. (424 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414-273-8222, thepfisterhotel.com)

Edelweiss – Milwaukee River Cruise Line

Be a “proud Mary” and take your mother “rollin’ on the river” with a scenic tour of the city. Edelweiss Champagne brunch tours leave at noon from 205 W. Highland and last for two hours. $42 per adult. (1110 N. Old World Third, 414-276.7447, edelweissboats.com)