Toyota to invest $1 billion in new company for Artificial Intelligence and robotics research in Silicon Valley

Article by Christian Andrei, on November 11, 2015

Toyota has reiterated its commitment to developing next-generation technology. The Japanese car manufacturer will infuse a total of $1 billion to start a research company in California’s Silicon Valley. What the company’s R&D division will be busy on are the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Clearly, Toyota is committed to developing next-gen technologies to create the cars of the future. Toyota will be giving the investment in increments over a period of five years. The company will begin its research and development as early as January next year.

200 employees will be working in this facility, which will be close to Stanford University. It can be noted that the University had received a grant of $50 million from Toyota to conduct artificial intelligence research together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

MIT will also be receiving its own facility from Toyota after the Silicon Valley hub is up and running. While it is apparent that the research will eventually lead to an “autopilot” feature in cars, Toyota had been adamant in maintaining that it looks to develop more than just self-driving cars.

The company had demonstrated its interest to develop technology that can be used in other aspects of day to day life, and has in fact unveiled a prototype for a robot that is intended to be a sort-of “caretaker” for the elderly, the sick and physically disabled individuals.

It has also succeeded in creating an early concept of musician robots that could replace human players. The company is definitely practicing what it is demonstrating, with computer-controlled production facilitated mostly by robotic arms in its auto production facilities. Toyota’s efforts will be spearheaded by Gill Pratt.

Pratt will be heading the new Silicon Valley company, which will be incorporated with the name Toyota Research Institute Inc. Pratt, who had served in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, had already been involved with the Japanese automaker as a technical adviser to its robotics and AI research efforts.

Pratt reiterated that he and Toyota are committed to developing robotics technology that will benefit older people and the sick. Artificial Intelligence will play a role in making the cars in the near future safer to drive. With the help of AI, handicapped people in the future will be able to drive a car independently.

As to why he picked Toyota as a partner in his ongoing R&D on robotics, Pratt said that he found how committed Toyota is to developing technologies not only for profit, but also for the common good. However, he also said that the development will be a long road ahead, but no one has broken significant ground so far.

Pratt noted that AI and robotics in automotives are still in their infancy. Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corp., also said that Pratt shares the company’s goal of eliminating the horrible tragedies of car accidents and the loss of life that comes along with it.

Toyota’s new subsidiary will be hard-pressed at finding the right talent to populate the new Toyota Research Institute Inc. The company is but one player in a new game that involves several other high-profile names like General Motors, Tesla, and Nissan.

Technology giants like Google, Apple and Uber are also interested in AI and robotics as well. Karl Brauer at Kelley Blue Book also indicated that there could be a change of workflow in Toyota’s new company, spurred on by the fast rise in efforts to come up with technology for automated driving.

The new company, as well as other similar firms from other auto makers, will have to adopt a system more similar to startup tech companies instead of their well-entrenched traditions in manufacturing and developing automobiles.

Toyota has come a long way from being a company troubled with recalls, as well as the far-reaching effects of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Just four years after that tragedy, Toyota has managed to stabilize its cash flow enough to have enough reserves to continue to research futuristic technologies. Recently, Toyota has announced that it sees a profit of 2.25 trillion yet, equivalent to $18.5 million, by March 2016. The company also has a sales forecast of 10 million vehicles globally by the end of 2015.

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