Toyota is investing big in artificial intelligence

By Isadora Linheira


Toyota decided to invest $1 billion in a research company setting up in the Silicon Valley to develop artificial intelligence and robotics. Toyota is determined to lead in futuristic cars that drive themselves and apply this technology to other areas of daily life.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda said Friday that the company is going to start operating from January 2016, with 200 employees at a Silicon Valley facility near Stanford University. A second facility will be established near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

Toyota said its interest extended beyond autonomous driving, which is starting to be offered by some automakers and being promised by almost all of them. The technology was pointing to a new industry for everyday use, delivering a safer lifestyle overall, it said.

Toyota has already shown a robot designed to help elderly, sick and handicapped people by picking up and carrying objects. The automaker has also shown human-shaped entertainment robots that can engage in conversations and play musical instruments. Toyota is one of the world’s top auto manufacturers to already use sophisticated robotic arms and computers in auto production, doing jobs such as painting and attaching car parts.

To show the world that the automaker’s vision is more than just cars, Mr. Toyoda appeared at a Tokyo hotel with high profile robotics expert Gill Pratt, who will head the new organization called Toyota Research Institute Inc.
Pratt was formerly a program manager at the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He joined Toyota as a technical adviser when it set up its AI research effort at Stanford and MIT.

According to Pratt, the company’s goals are to support older people in their homes with robotics, make cars free of accidents and use AI to allow all people to drive regardless of ability.

Pratt, who grew up watching Japanese robot animation, dreamed of one day building such robots, and he said he chose Toyota over other jobs because it was, “so focused on social good.” Pratt said coming up with a car as smart as a human being will take a long time, but that also meant the competition had just begun and no one was ahead significantly.

The new company will be hiring researchers and engineers, according to Toyota’s statement. Recruiting the perfect personnel is crucial because not only are automakers such as General Motors, Tesla and Nissan competing on autonomous driving but outsiders are as well, including Google, Apple and Uber.

Toyota, which has gone through troubled times with massive recalls and the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, is applying a big percentage of its capital into the future technology.

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