A fast emerging trend from this year’s tech extravaganza is the use by carmakers of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a way of accelerating the development of autonomous vehicles. If a car can learn from its errors and from its owner, it will be able to navigate spaces and terrains without mapping and will be able to make the right decision if a familiar route suddenly changes.

Toyota’s Concept-i car can conceivably do all of those things, but it will do so in a way that still makes the driver feel like they’re in complete control.

“At Toyota, we recognise that the important question isn’t whether future vehicles will be equipped with automated or connected technologies,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota. “It is the experience of the people who engage with those vehicles. Thanks to Concept-i and the power of artificial intelligence, we think the future is a vehicle that can engage with people in return.”

For Toyota’s developers at CALTY Design Research and at its Innovation Hub (both based in California) this sense of ease and of welcoming means giving the technology human characteristics in the form of a character they’ve dubbed “Yui.” It can converse with the driver and passengers and can even appear as a projection on the car’s exterior panels to greet its owner or to speak to pedestrians.

“Yui learns from us, grows with us, and builds a relationship that is meaningful and emotional,” said Carter. “What does that mean? Yui learns our preferences and our lifestyle; remembers where we like to go; pays attention to when we’re happy or sad.”

And while the whole thing sounds extremely sci-fi, the idea behind the concept is routed in the immediate future and in simplifying the handover from a person to a computer driving a car.

It’s also why this is one of the very few concept cars to debut at CES that is devoid of touch screens and widescreen displays. Instead information is communicated via changes in lighting, voice alerts, a head-up display and projectors hidden behind the seats.

“With all the talk about advances in automobile technology, it’s easy to lose sight of why we make cars in the first place. They’re for people,” said Carter.