Toyota invests $1 billion into AI and robotics research

December 8th, 2015 by

Research

Toyota has announced that it will invest $1 billion in a research company it will set up in Silicon Valley to develop artificial intelligence technology and robotics. The company will be called the Toyota Research Institute, Inc. The move underlines the Japanese automaker’s commitment and determination to become a leader in the race towards consumer-ready autonomous vehicles and other futuristic technologies.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., said that the company will start operating its new research branch in Silicon Valley in January 2016. 200 people will be employed at the Silicon Valley facility near Stanford University and an unknown number will work at a second facility near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Toyota will spend an additional $50 million for artificial intelligence research at both universities.

Toyota has said that its interests extend beyond autonomous driving systems to include technology for everyday use like the R2-D2-like robot it debuted previously to aid the elderly, the sick, and people in wheelchairs. The automaker has also shown humanoid entertainment robots that can carry on conversations and play musical instruments. Of course, robotic arms and computers are already in regular use in the company’s factories where they perform a variety of functions including assembly and painting.

Toyoda has chosen robotics expert Gill Pratt to head the new Research Institute. Pratt was previously a program manager at the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and joined Toyota as a technical adviser when the automaker set up its AI research effort at Stanford and MIT. Pratt outlined the company’s goals during an announcement at a Tokyo hotel alongside Toyoda: to support older people in their homes with robotics, to make cars accident-free, and to allow people to drive regardless of their age through the use of AI. These goals are personal to Pratt – he witnessed the death of a young boy after he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle. Pratt says he chose to work at Toyota over other positions because the company was “so focused on social good.”

Toyota will begin hiring researchers and engineers immediately. Finding the right talent is of paramount importance, since the company isn’t just competing with other automakers like GM, Tesla and Nissan to control the autonomous driving market – they’re also competing with outsiders like Uber, Apple, and Google.

Even after recent recalls and the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, Toyota has been able to bounce back with more than enough capital to back the Research Institute to success. The automaker is on track to sell around 10 million vehicles worldwide this year and its profit forecast through March 2016 is set for a conservative $18.5 billion.

Autonomous cars may not be available yet but Toyota’s vehicles remain industry leaders in terms of technology. Want to check out the latest and greatest? Come see us at Elmhurst Toyota today.

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