Toyota Invests $1 Billion In Artificial Intelligence Research And Development

Toyota announced that they have added artificial intelligence research and development to the company’s business objectives. On Friday, the Japanese auto manufacturer declared they initiated a five-year, $1 billion research and development effort with its center of operation to be located in the United States.

Toyota’s plan will be one of the largest research laboratories in California’s Silicon Valley. The new company name for the research facility is called the Toyota Research Institute.

Toyota will initially have a laboratory near Stanford University and another one near Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or M.I.T. in Cambridge, Mass.

Pepper Robot With Children
Children interact with Pepper robot. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Gill Pratt, a roboticist and former official at the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, will lead Toyota’s new artificial intelligence endeavor. Dr. Pratt joined Toyota in September when the company initially announced its strong interest in artificial intelligence research and development.

This new artificial intelligence effort by Toyota is also the latest sign of changes taking place in Silicon Valley’s basic technology research. For example, Microsoft closed a satellite laboratory of its Microsoft Research division in the Silicon Valley and laid off close to 75 researchers last year.

Artificial intelligence research done by internet companies like Google and Facebook — businesses that mostly focused on things that can be turned into a service or product — performed their research contrary to traditional methods used by industrial laboratories ran by giants like IBM and AT&T, which focused primarily on basic science.

International corporations like Samsung, General Electric, the Chinese search engine, Baidu, and all the major automakers have been establishing research outposts in or near the region to take advantage of the readily available engineering talent in the area.

For decades, artificial intelligence technology has been quite disappointing. Nevertheless, the innovative industry is making some major advances, such as the swift improvements in self-driving vehicle technology and systems like Apple’s personal assistant, Siri.

Recently, companies began seeking out talented researchers in machine learning, many of them recent graduates of prestigious universities like Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. Toyota plans to hire close to 200 scientists for its artificial intelligence research center.

Pepper Robot Hugs Man
Pepper robot gives hugs during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Robotics Challenge Expo. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The New York Times notes a brief comment made by Dr. Gill Pratt of Toyota’s new artificial intelligence operation.

“The density of people doing this kind of work in Silicon Valley is higher than any other place in the world.”

The new center will initially focus on artificial intelligence and robotics technologies. The company also plans to explore how humans move both outdoors and indoors. The artificial intelligence research will include technologies intended to help the elderly, as well.

Toyota plans to begin operation at the Toyota Research Institute in January. The company’s strategy includes prioritizing technologies that make driving safer for humans rather than completely replacing them. This new approach is contrary to existing research pursued by Uber and Google in their attempt to build self-driving cars.

Dr. Pratt noted how Toyota would utilize artificial intelligence for cars.

“We want to create cars that are both safer and incredibly fun to drive.”

Dr. Pratt said that rather than Toyota completely removing humans from driving vehicles, the company is looking at using an assortment of sensors and software that will serve as a “guardian angel,” protecting human drivers.

Employees of Toyota Motor Corporation work during the assembly process. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Employees of Toyota Motor Corporation work during the assembly process. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

In addition to focusing on navigation technologies, the new artificial intelligence research corporation will also apply artificial intelligence technologies to Toyota’s factory automation systems, a manufacturing system called the Toyota Production Systems.

Dr. Pratt briefly described Toyota’s system.

“As extraordinary as the T.P.S. is, we believe it can be improved still further through the use of more data and more A.I. There may also be advances in robot perception, planning, collaboration, and electromechanical design from T.R.I. that will translate into improvements in manufacturing robotics.”

Toyota, one of the world’s most successful car makers, committed $50 million in funding to the computer science departments of both Stanford and M.I.T.

Dr. Pratt added that in addition to making a strong commitment to becoming more involved in artificial intelligence research and development, Toyota’s intentions are to become one of the world’s top software developers, as well.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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