Toyota invests $50m in autonomous cars

Toyota is making a major investment into developing intelligent and self-driving vehicles alongside two leading US universities.

Over the next five years, Toyota Motor Corporation will invest approximately $50 million (about £32 million) in establishing joint research centres at both Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to further its expertise in computer science and human-machine interaction with the aim of reducing road injuries and fatalities.

Dr. Gill Pratt, former program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge, has joined Toyota to direct and accelerate these research activities and their application to intelligent vehicles and robotics.

This will include partner robots that could help older or physically infirm people cope with everyday life. In a statement, the company said, ‘Toyota believes the opportunities to improve every-day living through artificial intelligence-supported technologies are boundless, with significant breakthrough potential for the development of life-saving intelligent vehicles and life-improving robots.’

Kiyotaka Ise, TMC senior managing officer and chief officer, R&D group said, ‘We’re here today to mark the beginning of an unprecedented commitment. We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology, with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics.’

‘This partnership, led by Dr. Pratt, is a great opportunity to work with two leading research teams from two top universities. I am very excited about what this new venture means for Toyota, and I look forward to more announcements in the future.’

Toyota believes the opportunities to improve every-day living through artificial intelligence-supported technologies are boundless

Dr. Gill Pratt said, ‘This bold collaboration will address extremely complex mobility challenges using ground breaking artificial intelligence research. I’m thrilled to be a part of the synergies and talent-sharing of Toyota, MIT, and Stanford. Key program areas will be addressed by the two university campuses and Toyota, with combined research targeted at improving the ability of intelligent vehicle technologies to recognise objects around the vehicle in diverse environments, provide elevated judgment of surrounding conditions, and safely collaborate with vehicle occupants, other vehicles, and pedestrians.’

‘The joint research will also look at applications of the same technology to human-interactive robotics and information service.’

Research at MIT will be led by Professor Daniela Rus, director of the Institute’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). She said, ‘Our team will collaborate with Stanford and Toyota to develop advanced architectures that allow cars to better perceive and navigate their surroundings in order to make safe driving decisions. These efforts will play a major role in helping reduce traffic casualties, and potentially even helping us develop a vehicle incapable of getting into a collision.’

Led by Professor Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), the Stanford-based research centre will collaborate with MIT and Toyota to develop advanced intelligent systems to recognise, understand and act in complex traffic environments.

‘Building on Stanford’s expertise with computer vision, machine learning, large-scale data analysis and human-computer interaction, our team will work to help intelligent vehicles recognize objects in the road, predict behaviours of things and people, and make safe and smart driving decisions under diverse conditions,’ said Professor Li.

Beyond Toyota’s longstanding work on autonomous vehicles and advanced driving support systems, the company has been developing robots for industrial use since the 1970s, and for Partner and Human Support Robot applications since the 2000s. This collaborative effort will open up new avenues for systems and product development across a broad range of mobility applications.